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Thank You, Ordinary Teachers, for Doing Extraordinary Things

This week I'm featuring a guest post by Barbara Gottschalk. Barbara teaches English-language learners in Warren Consolidated Schools in suburban Detroit, Mich. She is an America Achieves Fellow and has taught in five different states, as well as Japan.

Many times, what's left out of the news is just as important as what's mentioned. I think that's the case with a recent story about my colleague Brandon Briguglio, a 1st grade teacher at Susick Elementary in Troy, Mich., who donated his kidney to a little boy. The original story appeared on local TV, but what's missing is how it all started and the key role parent-teacher relationships played in it.

Melissa Koch, kindergarten teacher at Susick Elementary, and Mr. Briguglio had taught the kidney recipient's older brother in kindergarten. The little boy who needed the kidney transplant hadn't started school yet. I was curious about how these teachers learned about the need for another donor when the boy's mother became pregnant and couldn't donate. "Oh," Mrs. Koch told me, "I've kept in touch with the family and that's how I found out about it." Beyond educating their oldest, Mrs. Koch established a meaningful relationship with this family that went beyond the typical parent-teacher conference and ultimately helped Mr. Briguglio save a child's life.    

What does the backstory to this account of a kidney donation have to do with retaining and developing quality teachers? More than you'd think, actually. Both of the young teachers involved in this story have told me they worry about the future of their chosen career. I would argue that competitive salaries would significantly advance our profession, but what I hear them asking for is assistance. They welcome valid assessment of their efforts so they can improve their craft, but in order to improve, they want professional development and help from support staff such as special education teachers, English as a Second Language teachers, and para-professionals.  

They want opportunities for advancement too. Teaching is a remarkably flat profession, and these still-young teachers would like to see a way to move forward in their careers without having to leave the classroom or being promoted into administration. Hybrid teaching positions, for example, are ways teachers can blend classroom time with leadership roles without having to add to the 100 percent they're already giving in their classroom positions.

A Google search of "kidney donation" and "teacher" shows several instances of teachers donating kidneys to their present or former students. It's nice to know that even my colleague's huge act of kindness and sacrifice is not unique, but beyond organ donation, regular teachers are making changes in children's lives every day. By offering more professional development and career advancement we can encourage and retain high-quality teachers who take the time to invest in their students and their families.

The teachers who received prison sentences in the Atlanta test-cheating scandal and the educators sitting with the First Lady at the State of the Union receive the most media attention, but these specific failures or stars within the profession represent a small percent of teachers. Instead of glamorizing these few, we should focus on ordinary teachers like Mr. Briguglio (even before his kidney donation!) and Mrs. Koch, who are doing extraordinary things every day. Let's give them the help they need and the career advancement they crave.

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