You Can't Measure Appreciation

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week. My daughter is in first grade at Cache La Poudre Elementary School (CLPE) so we went on probably the first of many shopping trips for some lame gift for her teacher, Marilyn Ehni. I'm sure teachers across the country have attics full of "Best Teacher in the World" statuettes. And in each case, the thought is far greater than the insignificant present.

I don't know what Mrs. Ehni could use because I only see her once a week for an hour when I exchange books for the reading program. And I only see the other first grade teachers, Nancy McGinnis and Sue Harber, occasionally. All three share the kids across reading and activity groups so the students get to work under different teaching styles and personalities and the teachers get to know all the children in the grade. And in the school.

On the playground, the monitors know the names of all the kids. I asked one who explained that she only needs to learn the names of the new kindergartners each year. It seems all the adults in the school do that. And they all work together to prod and instruct each child. The teachers serve food in the cafeteria. The custodian keeps the lunch crowd under control and also demonstrates bead stringing and Indian dancing during classes. The administrative people wander the hall and visit classes. During the Native American section when each child invented a name based on nature and I received a name tag of Noisy Water, the principal came in and told us his name was Chief Mucky Muck.

I should probably give each adult in the school an appreciative doodad, but that would just fill their houses with useless collectibles they have to store or dust. So I'll only inflict that task on Mrs. Ehni.

Every teacher I've listened to in presentations has said CLPE was the best school in the district. It may be the best, but from where I sit as a parent looking closely at just this one example, I assume CLPE represents all schools. Of course, I'd never call it "average" because that word has somehow become pejorative, but I have this feeling that our schools are really good.

I don't like the two main ways society measures schools. Standardized tests measure test-taking skills and what students have memorized. But they can't measure useful skills such as the ability to keep learning, personal motivation to excel, and how to make friends and deal with heartbreak, teasing, and vicious rumors. The realty method is even worse, measuring property values based on taxes paid. When brokers and Realtors talk of a house being in a good school district, they only mean that the house will probably retain or increase its value. They aren't measuring how well schools, teachers, and students work together.

Measurements are difficult. I would hope teachers don't measure a parent's appreciation by the silly gift our children awarded them last week. Most first grade parents I talk to are amazed at how hard their teachers work and how much they care. Parents of older students already know. After reading all the horror stories in the media, we newbies to schooling were expecting apathetic adherence to strict union rules. But journalists are always looking for the one in a million example, the most horrific, eye-catching tale to tell. The vast majority of teachers, by definition, are the norm. Yet they aren't average; they are each exceptional.

I ignored all the other teachers and caring adults in the school and gave Mrs. Ehni a symbolic gift, a flowering plant, but I know in my heart, like most other parents in America, that nothing can signify just how much we appreciate the effort and love you each give teaching our children how to bloom into adults.