Opinion Columns & Blogs

Teaching profession has a lot of super-heroes

Several weeks ago, Paul Elwood wrote about how his daughter is smarter than all the kids in Thurston County because she went to school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In theory, I suppose he has a point. The standardized test scores and per capita income in Cambridge are higher than here. The dropout rate is lower. Also, Massachusetts is much harder to spell than Washington. I get it.

When my family moved over a decade ago from the elementary school with the worst test scores in the district to the school with the best, I opted to drive my children, every day, to the school with the worst test scores. Why? Obviously, I was hoping my children would be stupid. If I was going to avoid tuition, I had to do something drastic to counteract that Asian gene.

Even with all that effort, my 17-year-old will be attending NYU in the fall. What happened? We had an agreement. I take my kids to schools with terrible test scores, and you provide a subpar education. What did I miss?

Teachers. Administrators. Staff. Parents. I missed taking into account the actual people.

Maybe standardized tests tell us absolutely nothing about the quality of a school. Maybe they are a complete waste of time and money and a stupidly simplistic solution to a very complex problem.

Maybe making more money doesn’t make you a more involved parent, or more dedicated to your child’s education. Maybe schools with higher ratios of kids living in poverty and who don’t speak English will ALWAYS have lower test scores and more dropouts. Maybe it’s a societal problem, and not an educational problem.

The real reason I chose to drive my kids to the worst school in the North Thurston district is because I knew the teachers, administrators, and staff at Pleasant Glade Elementary. And I knew that, if Einstein’s ghost offered me free tutoring, they wouldn’t be better off.

My youngest is now in middle school at Chinook (CMS). And again, I couldn’t dream up better teachers. Teachers that create educated kids DESPITE the standardized tests. Teachers who care. That’s the key, right there.

Several years ago, a parent named Scott Smith walked into CMS and said “Let’s start a robotics club. I’ll help.” And the principal said “Yes.” And a teacher said “Yes.” And this year, my daughter’s team, The Nerd Herd, went to the Washington state finals and won the award for most innovative solution.

These kids came up with a prototype for a glove that will teach people who are blind and/or deaf to play musical instruments. And not one of them went to school in Cambridge.

My 15-year-old son is taking AP Physics at North Thurston from a man who, realizing his fascination with physics, offered him extra work and reading materials. And has even intervened to resolve fights in my home about gravity. Wait, are we in Cambridge? No, we’re in little old Thurston County.

When my 17-year-old was in freshman science, she had a brand new teacher who recognized she was advanced for the class and let her pick an area of interest from each topic on the syllabus and work on her own. He told me he didn’t want to extinguish her interest in science. And four years later, she’ll be a freshman at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering.

Every single one of my children has been helped, encouraged, guided, and nurtured by at least one teacher. In this crappy county with our crappy schools. And they will go on to amazing universities, all three of them with an eye on science, and likely go on to do amazing things. They will, if even in the smallest of ways, change the world for the better.

And it’s because of the awful teachers at their awful schools.

So, Mr Elwood, you can have Cambridge and their superior schools. You have higher test scores, more money, and a lower dropout rate. You may have that army, but we have a Hulk, who goes by the name Jenny Goin. And there’s Jacob Patchen. Ray Nelson. Kevin Hall. Grant Sears. Joe Sokolik. Holly Berchet-Hall. Bill Broeker. Sandra Rowell. David Cheney. And so many more than this paper has room for.

You see, despite what Seahawks fans seem to think, real superheroes aren’t paid millions to advance a ball. Real superheroes are paid thousands to advance a generation. And they do it every day, with enthusiasm and empathy.

Maybe your kid is smarter than ours. But she didn’t get a better education than she would have in Thurston County. Because there’s no such thing.