Nicholas Kristof posted “The Most Important Job in America” on his blog “On the Ground” at The New York Times on Saturday, January 21, 2012. The esteemed columnist writes that, “I think education is, in the long run, the most important challenge America faces and the one where we’re in greatest difficulties. If we want to maintain economic competitiveness and chip away at poverty, we simply have to improve high school graduation rates and college attendance — and that in turn will depend on an overhaul of the entire education system, starting with early childhood education.”
Kristof’s blog post introduced his next day’s column: “How Mrs. Grady Transformed Olly Neal.” The short story is that Neal, an incorrigible elementary school boy who brought his English teacher Mrs. Grady to tears one day, picked up a book in the library, read it, liked it, returned it then was delighted to find another book by the same author. He found a third book, then a fourth, etc. Thinking that Neal didn’t want to be seen reading a book, Mildred Grady always placed the new book where he could find it. Not until he was an adult and saw Mrs. Grady at a high school reunion did she tell him that she drove to a book store 70 miles away to buy books by the same author for him to read.
Thanks to the generosity, patience, and forgiveness of Mrs. Grady, Kristof writes about Neal that, “His trajectory changed, and he later graduated to harder novels, including those by Albert Camus, and he turned to newspapers and magazines as well. He went to college and later to law school. In 1991, Neal was appointed the first black district prosecuting attorney in Arkansas. A few years later, he became a judge, and then an appellate court judge.”
As someone who last year earned Baruch College’s Presidential Award for Distinguished Teaching, I agree with Kristof about the importance of the job of teaching. I like to think and have been told that I offer students the opportunities to transform their lives and grow into a career they love.
My first semester teaching on the college level was in the Marketing Department at New York City Technology College in downtown Brooklyn in 1990. “Why I Teach” is the title of a blog that I posted that includes a letter of gratitude from one of students who was in my first Public Relations class.
Following is the note a brilliant student sent me in a Thank You card at the end of my first math class. It will give you an idea of how my teaching style motivates and inspires students.
Our last scheduled class ends today and I can honestly say that I’m going to miss it! I’ve learned a lot more that math this semester. I have learned about caring, sharing, and friendships. You have built up my confidence and I feel as though I can accomplish just about anything. You have given me a direction in life which I plan to follow. I thought this was just supposed to be a math course!
I greatly appreciate everything that you’ve done for me. Thank you for caring enough to motivate me. You’re doing a great job!
Sincerely, Steve Armand
Over twenty years later, I will begin teaching another class with the same respect for my students and the belief that my job is the most important one in America.