“Billy, where is my assignment?”
       “What assignment, Sally?”
       “The one we have to turn in. I know I gave it to you, because I never keep my own work. I always lose my work, so I give it to other people to keep track of.”
       Seriously. This exact conversation (with the exception of name changes because I love my job and, more importantly, would like to be able to keep making my mortgage payments) took place right in front of me, in my classroom, not one week ago. And, just to make sure we all understand how appalling this conversation is…I teach high school. I teach juniors and seniors in high school.  
       Don’t get me wrong…both “Billy” and “Sally” are great kids. I love them to death. Well…they’re great kids. And, to be honest, Billy found Sally’s paper and Sally was actually able to turn in her assignment and get credit, whereas the majority of the rest of the class (the children who “kept” their own papers), couldn’t find their assignments and had to take a zero. It had been a whole two days since it was handed out to them. Silly me, thinking that students should—or rather could—be responsible.
       Education in general is getting a bad rap as of late. Public schools are taking a beating, especially the district in which I teach. No matter what the argument is, the consensus seems to be that all of the problems that we face in society today can be blamed on the teachers in school not doing their jobs. If only the teachers were better educated, our kids would learn more. If only our teachers were more involved and caring, our kids would do better on tests. If only our teachers were paid less, our kids would feel more loved. If only our teachers would solve world hunger, our kids would all become brain surgeons.
       I beg to differ.
       I currently teach at the same high school that I attended…and, to be quite honest, it wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things. When I started teaching, I became a colleague to the exact same teachers that had taught me. And, quite frankly, they were the same people doing the same things—maybe with a little more technology thrown in—that they were when I was a student. They hadn’t become stupid oafs in the few years that I was gone, they had just kept plugging along. I didn’t remember them being horrible teachers. In fact, I thought that I had pretty darn good teachers. I did well in school. I am a nicely educated person. I learned to love learning and to value education in whatever form it came. Yet, for some reason, as I settled in to my new role as teacher, I noticed a startling phenomenon: according to the students and parents, Mr. So-and-So and Ms. What’s-her-face were horrible teachers because Danny and Rebecca failed those classes. Mrs. What’s-her-bucket didn’t always stand on her head and tap dance in front of the class, so she really didn’t put in enough effort. In fact, the whole school was just horrible and none of the kids were learning. Education in general had become a joke. No one had a chance of learning anything at this school. In fact, public education in general was worthless. Funny…I could have sworn that, with the exact same teachers, I had grown into a rather intelligent, somewhat successful human being. What was the difference?
       As I was growing up, my mother read to me every night. When I got old enough to read on my own, she would still come in to my room and read to me—or we would take turns reading—before bed. My parents always asked about my schoolwork, wanted to see my tests, helped me with my homework, and took an active role in my education. My parents were parents. They expected me to do my best in all that I did. While I was not a “problem child” by any means, I knew that if I ever did step out of line at school, my parents would make sure I regretted it. Actions had consequences. I had responsibilities. My teachers, I was taught, deserved respect just because they were teachers. It didn’t matter if I like them or their class, they deserved my respect because they were my elders.
       One day, at the end of the year, my dad found me on the computer making a comic that depicted my math teacher in a rather harsh light. He asked me about it. I explained that it was just a celebratory joke meant for my friends because we had survived the year with this particular teacher who, we thought, was absolutely horrible and who did not belong in the classroom. He was the most misanthropic person we had ever met. He hated children. He had no people skills. He admittedly did not want to be teaching pre-algebra. He seemed to be putting in his time as a teacher so that he could coach. He made us feel horrid and stupid if we got something wrong or didn’t understand a concept. I thought I was justified in letting off a little steam and making him look like an idiot. My dad, however, did not agree. My dad explained that, even though this man might not have been the best teacher, he still gave me an education. He still put in effort to make me a better person. I might not have enjoyed the class, but I did learn something—and that deserved gratitude, not scorn, on my part. My dad wanted to know how I would feel if this teacher ever saw this cartoon. I deleted the file. I got an A in the class.
       That same man was still at the school when I returned, but he was the assistant principal. He still seemed to lack what most people would call people skills, he still had the ability to make me want to curl up and cry at times, but as I worked with him as a colleague, I came to understand that, even though he didn’t do things the way I would have done them, everything he did was for the good of the kids and the school. He always had my back. He pushed people (often in the wrong way) in order to make them better. That’s what educators are supposed to do. Sure, it’s always nicer if we can grow and stretch in a way we enjoy, but that doesn’t always happen. Life is tough. Sometimes we have to play nice with people we don’t like. That’s one of the greatest lessons public education can give us—learning to please The Man while staying true to ourselves.
       In thirteen years of teaching, I have seen countless kids come through my classroom. The only difference between the A’s and the F’s is the personal responsibility felt by the student. That responsibility comes from the home. Public schools are not responsible for our children’s education. Families are responsible for education—public schools are a tool to aide in that education.
       I had some great teachers throughout my school years. I had great role models. I had fun and enjoyed school. But the greatest teachers I had were the ones that taught me to respect the people that got paid to teach me, the ones that taught me how to be respectful and responsible so that I could enjoy school and actually get something out of it. The greatest teachers I had were my parents.
        If more families understood this, if more parents took the time to teach their children respect and responsibility, we would be a lot better off as a people. If the parents would start to be parents, the teachers could be teachers. If parents were better educated, our kids would learn more. If our parents were more involved and caring, our kids would do better on tests. If our parents worked less, our kids would feel more loved. If our parents would take time to sit down and have dinner with their kids, they won’t all necessarily become brain surgeons, but they will be better off and more successful and happy in the long run. In the end, isn’t that what it’s all about?