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Thank a Teacher - A Commentary

By Dorothy McConachie, KERA 90.1 commentator

Dallas, TX – On New Year's Eve a couple of years ago, the phone rang at Lisa Grinsfelder's house. One of her students desperately needed help. The teenager was in labor and all alone. Her family had gone away for the holidays and she had no one to be with her. So the girl called the one person she knew she could count on - her aquatic science teacher at Berkner High School in Richardson.

Helping a student give birth is not part of Lisa Grinsfelde's job description. She did it because she is a caring person - one of many dedicated teachers in Texas who make a difference in students' lives.

At a time when a teacher's competency is measured by student scores on standardized tests, we must applaud teachers who know there's more to learn in life than can be gleaned from books and that those other lessons often make book learning possible.

Lydia Bosquez is a high school math teacher in San Antonio, and she has helped some of the poorest and most unlikely students in Texas excel in city and regional speaking events. One reason they have succeeded and others in similar neighborhoods haven't is Ms. Bosquez challenges them to expect more from themselves than does society.

She told one student, "They expect you to fail. Prove them wrong." That student went on to study at Southern Methodist University.

Ms. Bosquez is not surprised when her students soar. She knows they are capable. She also knows it takes more than a single math class to reach through layers of conditioning that hold back the young people she teaches.

"If you can't touch their hearts, you can't touch their minds," she says.

Robert Glinski teaches history at Tennyson Middle School in Waco. He knows firsthand the affect a teacher can have on a student's life.

"School was a nice retreat from home life," he says of his difficult years as a child. He attributes his success as a happy, productive adult to teachers who took the time and effort to nurture him. He now works to have the same type of positive influence on his students' lives.

There is no standardized assessment for how deeply a teacher affects a student's life. No merit badges for helping a young person become a productive citizen. No kudos given for holding a girl's hand as she gives birth and encourages her to stay in school. No promotions or pay raises for teachers who strive to give their students more than facts to memorize.

Of course, an effective teacher has to know their subject matter. But the most successful know a child is more than a test score. Fortunately, we have Ms. Grindfelder, Ms. Bosquez, Mr. Glinski and many others who care enough to touch their students' hearts and minds.

These are the teachers we want in our schools. These are the teachers we need to applaud.

Dorothy McConachie is a former teacher and author of "Top Texas Teachers."