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Thank an ESP Today!

Everyone remembers a favorite teacher. And just as important, everyone also remembers a favorite education support professional. Do you remember that wonderful bus driver who greeted you every morning with a smile and made sure that you got to school safely? Do you remember the lunchroom worker who served you a nutritious meal? Do you remember the school secretary who called your parents if you were ill or provided you with kind words if you were sent to the principal's office? Do you remember the school custodian who cleaned up after you and made sure the school was sanitary and healthy? They are all education support professionals (ESP). They are the unsung heroes of our public education system.

Today is their day. Today is Education Support Professional Day. Once a year, during American Education Week, we take time to honor these men and women who are dedicated to our students. They have made personal and economic sacrifices because of their belief in public education and the dignity in serving America's future. We should be appreciative, and we should let them know it.

There are many ESPs that have been instrumental to my success in life, but I will only share two stories with you today. First, let me thank Andrew Cowan, who worked as a school custodian where I graduated from high school and spent my first year as a teacher. Mr. Cowan was also a minister. He knew every student's name, and he knew when trouble was brewing and was a master in diffusing that trouble with humor, a stern look, or a listening ear. As a young teacher, he knew that I might need some extra encouragement, advice on how to handle a disruptive student, or even a key to the closet where instructional materials were kept. Mr. Cowan was a role model for all those he encountered. He was the heart of our school and he was loved by all.

Let me also thank Bobbie Johnson, my first teacher assistant. I first met Bobbie when the principal begged me to take a class of young boys who had been labeled emotionally and behaviorally challenged. Bobbie was the teacher assistant who had outlasted the revolving door of teachers. She became my confidante, my tag team partner, and my second pair of hands and eyes. She provided these troubled youngsters with the right amount of mothering and love, and she provided me with the support to redirect these challenging students to academic and social success. It was the hardest teaching assignment at the beginning and the easiest at the end. Together, we made a huge difference for these students and their parents.

ESPs are critical to a teacher's success. They are our partners. They are our friends. Send a thank you note to your favorite ESP or to those who serve your children. Being thanked is the best gift, but I am sure they would not reject any other token of appreciation.

I hope the day will come when we can thank them with a living wage, fair benefits, and working conditions that give them the dignity and respect they deserve. After all, it's only fair after what they do to support the education of our children.

To all education support professionals across America, thank you!

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