Today is the 30th annual California Day of the Teacher, a day to appreciate everything teachers do for our state, our children, our communities and our future.
Teachers are often the first role models we remember in life. They teach us facts, but they also teach us about the kinds of people we want to be, and they are frequently the reason we end up pursuing a particular passion or career path.
Just about everyone has had at least one teacher that really made an impact on their lives. For California Teachers Association President Dean Vogel, that person was his 4th grade teacher, Mr. Chavez. In today’s Long Beach Press Telegram, Vogel recalls how Chavez’ accepting and encouraging personality influenced him to become a teacher years later:
He was one of those teachers who could nourish the gift that every child had. I remember that he was very open to everybody, not just the kids who were the best behaved or the kids who seemed to be the smartest or got their work done on time. And I was a kid who needed that kind of connection. I needed to know there was an adult in the world who believed in me, and he was that guy.
Vogel’s story is one we can all relate to. We all have our own “Mr. Chavez” — for me, it was my third grade teacher, Ms. Purdue, who first shaped my dreams and made me realize my potential. She was sweet and caring, allowing me to feel safe to break out of my shell. Her unique “country party” incentive system taught me about the immensity of the world. Here’s how it worked: Ms. Purdue had a miniature airplane that travelled around the classroom, and every time the class had a good day, it would move a foot closer to its “secret destination.” I can still recall the feeling of the adrenaline in the classroom as the plane moved around, knowing we were days away from the destination-themed “country party” which celebrated the cultures of different countries. I remember the tasty pizza at the Italy party, and the dancing and music from the Ghana party. Thanks to Ms. Purdue’s country parties, I became immensely interested in other cultures. I started with pen pals in elementary school and eventually travelled the world following high school. Traveling has in turn inspired me to fix the inequalities that I’ve encountered, which are present even here in my own backyard.
Ms. Purdue was more than just a teacher to me – she was an inspiration. I remember her staying late to help my peers or to decorate the classroom with our work. I even recall how much I missed her nice, patient personality when she was out for a week with a serious illness. She did not make much and had to pay for a lot out of pocket (now that I’m older and understand the meager supply budgets for public school teachers, I realize that Ms. Purdue probably financed the “country parties” for a class of 25 all on her own) but she still worked hard and long hours because she loved her students. And we loved her back.
Today, California’s hard-working teachers are still struggling to make a difference for our students and their future, despite $20 billion in severe budget cuts, 40,000 layoffs, increased class sizes and even fewer resources than ever before. So on this Day of the Teacher, we’re not just celebrating teachers, we’re fighting for them, the way they’ve always fought for us. That’s why we need the Governor’s revenue measure to fund education, protect our students and keep more teachers like Mr. Chavez and Ms. Purdue in the classroom. And that’s why we need to make a commitment to “Invest in California” going forward.
Because every student deserves an education inspiration… and our state’s future depends on the next generation of thinkers and innovators to keep California on top.