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A thanks to teachers

November 22, 2003

STEVE SMITH

One of my friends is a pilot who told me many years ago that on the

way out of a commercial airplane, it's always nice to stick your head

in the cockpit and say "thank you" to the crew on the flight deck.

I don't fly much anymore, although during a recent 30-day stretch,

I flew back and forth to Orlando to attend a convention and to St.

Louis and Phoenix to give speeches. Each time, I said "thank you" to

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the crew on my way out, and each time, I received a look of surprise

and a hearty, "You're welcome!"

A couple of weeks ago, in anticipation of a Thanksgiving column, I

started developing a list of people to thank publicly for enriching

my life or the lives of my wife and children, or for keeping us safe.

I thought about borrowing an idea from former Pilot Editor Bill

Lobdell, who used run a list of such people each Thanksgiving.

My list included friends and family, firefighters and police, but

the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to thank just one

special group of people who, like the airline pilots, do not hear

"thank you" often enough. This time around, it's time to thank

teachers, but with a twist. (You knew there had to be a twist, didn't

you?)

Being a teacher in 2003 is not the same as being a teacher was

many years ago. Kids today are not raised with the same respect for

schools and teachers as they were a generation ago. I still believe

many teachers could help their cause by consistently wearing

business-style clothes, but that's a small point here.

The larger point is that the teaching is becoming less attractive

to both the veterans and to anyone considering the profession. One of

the main reasons is the amount of information they are required by

the state to teach to children. There is too much knowledge to impart

in too little time, and there are too many mandated tests and too

much bureaucratic nonsense.

Kids learn best when information is given to them in ways that are

fun and interesting. That idealized version of education is not

always possible even in the best of times. It's not always going to

be fun and games. But today, there is little hope of ever presenting

the curriculum in that fashion because there is simply not enough

time to slow down and digest it all. Teachers whip through wars and

dynasties and spend relative moments on the Great Depression -- a

time in our nation's history that should serve, in my opinion, as one

of the great lessons for our children. And then there's math, science

and English.

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