In the 1800s, public support of universal education swelled and our concept of education today is still routed in what were founded then as common schools. They are now known as elementary schools and it is one of our greatest sources of strength as a nation that we offer quality education from an early age.
The less egalitarian part of starting up all these schools and educating everyone was a need for cheap labor. In the face of the need for teachers, women were targeted to fill that workforce gap.
And so began 200+ years of unjust pay for arguably the most influential roles in our society. For who cannot name a great teacher who influenced the their life and their thinking?
So for Day 2 of 10 Days of Great Women, I choose teachers in my life.
Dr. Eichhorn was my 9th grade English teacher. She was my teacher 3 more times by the time I left high school. I never skipped her class and she taught me the nuances of meaning in a book. She read us each and every page of Beloved allowed and painstakingly helped us draw out its deepest meanings. I fought through other books and attempted and failed to find the hidden themes. I loved learning about time periods through stories and art that gave a full picture of a time and a people. I owe her a great debt to this day for inspiring me to be a great reader.
In my undergrad program, I had Nikki Murdick (also a PhD.) She made me laugh in class with stories of difficult behavior in kids and both the obvious and less conventional means of intervening in problem behavior in kids. I remember her telling a story about a kid who had to wear gloves because of sensory problems and her cutting off a little bit of the fingertips each day to acclimate him to not wearing those gloves. I also remember a certain story about adults chasing a kid in circles around a building. I owe to her, a lot of my choices in working with tough kids and more importantly, feeling like I could figure out how to help those kids perform academically. She has pushed for justice and presided as a hearing officer in due process hearings for Special Education cases for (I think) 20 years. She's worked her entire career to help people with developmental disabilities and that's not usually something that gets you glitzy notice. But let's be clear: it is doing the work that matters.
In my graduate school program I had Elisabeth Kinsey who went way above and beyond to help me with my book, Between Families. She met me in person multiple times for coffee and to talk through the book. She also volunteers her time to teach online for a school in a 3rd world country where the computers are guarded 24 hours/day but armed guards in order to keep them from being stolen. She was excommunicated from the Mormon church and is writing a memoir about that while helping students and also working toward a PhD. I owe her for teaching me to be a better and more planful writer.
While these are some of the teachers in my life, they are the tip of the iceberg in terms of great women. There are also the teachers I've seen in my children's lives like Erica who taught my younger son to share and be away from his family, and Mrs. Bartelt who so clearly loves my older son for just exactly who is that he is thriving in 1st grade. These early teachers are the biggest influencers outside the family for children. They are informing how my children view education for the rest of their lives. These are great women.
And they are not the tip of the iceberg either. I still didn't touch on my friends in the profession like Meghann who has worked for 13 years in special education or my editor who is a special education teacher now. Or my friend Liz who teaches at my kids' school and constantly stops whatever she's doing when she runs into students to catch up with them and really look them in the eye. I didn't get to mention yet my family members who are professors that teach everything from Psychology to Biology to Reading Education.
While it's been underpaid for over 200 years, education has offered women the chance to influence future generations, to teach the love of learning, to teach people to be good people.
So today, Day 2 of 10 days of Great Women, is devoted to you, teachers.
"If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people." Chinese Proverb