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Last In, First Out

2011 March 8
by prgiff

On the first day I taught, my father said, “Be a good teacher. There’s nothing more important.”
I’ve never forgotten that. How can it be that so many politicians, so many people, have forgotten how important our profession is? I wonder whether they ever remember teachers who changed their lives.
I began to teach in Queens, in New York City. I had attended kinder-garten in the same school, P.S. 136. My teacher was still there, a master teacher. I loved my first class, and like all first year teachers, my enthusiasm was boundless. But how many mistakes I made! And how grateful I was for the advice I received from some of the more experienced teachers, advice I remembered through the years; advice, years later, I could give to new teachers.
I’m talking about last in, first out, of course. It’s a cause for anger, for sadness for teachers who have worked so hard for so many years. I was gratified when Jim waved a piece from the newspaper in front of me on Sunday. A writer named David Barkin wrote: “Why is teaching the only profession in which the more experience you have, the worse you supposedly are? Why would anyone become a teacher in the future knowing that the reward for hard work and dedication is to be fired once you’ve become a master of your trade?”
Well said. How frightening to think about it.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Scott permalink
    March 8, 2011


    I just received my teaching certificate in the mail after having graduated from college in December. I’m a bit of a rarity, being a male teacher who wishes to teach K-3 (although I’m certified K-6), and chose education not because I want a huge salary or a three month vacation, but because I want to help children learn. I didn’t initially think of the non-academic differences one could make in a child’s life, but after helping a first grader discover her self-worth and confidence as a student teacher, I graduated from college knowing that I’m in charge of developing far more than the knowledge of how to read, how to add two numbers, or how to find Ohio on a map.

    I think everyone–politician, businessman, random man on the bus–should take the time to think of teachers who have made a difference in their lives. Yes, these are tough times for public education (you’ll probably find me teaching in a private or charter school next year by choice) but I feel we as educators, from the recent graduates who just started subbing to the veterans of the teaching community, should help spread the importance of a good teacher through our stories of how teachers changed our lives. I wouldn’t be where I am now if it weren’t for some of my teachers, many of whom inspired me to choose education for my career. Hopefully this will lead to a career that never ends until I voluntarily retire, which is something I don’t even want to think about!

    I wanted to thank you for the positive portrayal of our educators as role models and caring figures in your books. While I admittedly haven’t read the new BIG WHOPPER book (but am intrigued and just may have to check it out for the sake of my future students), I do have fond memories of the Polk Street School series (I still have my copy of STACY SAYS GOODBYE, my favorite of the books, on my bookshelf to this day, and could relate to it very well since my kindergarten teacher left on maternity leave–although I admittedly didn’t have a disastrous perm before her going-away party). I remember Mrs. Zachary and Ms. Rooney being portrayed as caring, nurturing individuals who helped all children equally well and were able to build character as well as knowledge in the students; whether it be Beast, Emily, Matthew, Stacy, or even bullies like Twana. In a culture where media vilifies teachers all too often, it’s refreshing to know there are indeed books out there where teachers are the “good guys”. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to teach some units based on these great works of literature some day! Thank you for writing such great books, from the stories to the wonderful WRITE UP A STORM WITH THE POLK STREET SCHOOL, which certainly came in handy when I was in first grade and was expected to write a few short stories! As Mrs. Zachary would say, the book was spectacular!!!

  2. Wendy Lamb permalink
    March 21, 2011

    WOW! it is thrilling to think of Scott growing up reading the Polk Street stories and taking Mrs. Rooney and Mrs. Zachary into the classroom with him today! Scott, I am so happy you want to teach, and I know you will make a big difference to your lucky students.

    Scott–THANK YOU!!! (I am Pat’s editor. Always grateful to teachers, who are the front lines everyday.)

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