December 1, 2013 

How do you feel about teachers? If you were ranking teachers and doctors and lawyers in terms of their importance to you and your family, who would be first? Well, in the past year, how many times did you need your doctor? How many cases did your lawyer handle for you? And during this same year, how many days did your child sit in a classroom with a teacher?

But is it a matter of “time spent?”

I sat in a classroom every year from age 6 to age 31. Twenty-five years of schooling. I had professors from Italy and France and Germany and Spain; I had men and women teachers; some young and some old. I had some who couldn’t speak English and some who used sign language, and some who spoke only in Latin. But none of this mattered. What mattered was what some of them inspired in me.

I remember a little, old monk named Father Kane. He taught me English literature in my junior year of high school. He introduced me to Charles Dickens. I grew to know and love all those characters from the Artful Dodger in “Oliver Twist” to little Tiny Tim Cratchit in “A Christmas Carol.” Father Kane didn’t just teach me; he inspired me. I went on to read every book Dickens wrote, including the one he was writing when he died, and I didn’t do this to get a better grade; I did it because I wanted to. Father Kane inspired me.

But how do you measure inspiration? I can count how many times my doctor gave me the correct diagnosis, and how many successful cases my lawyer litigated. But how do I measure the depth of curiosity and desire teachers have pumped into my heart? How do I reward my teachers for their hours of patience and gentle prodding and spontaneous bursts of wild enthusiasm that produced in me this tremendous desire to learn?

Our government thought they could quantify their work with No Child Left Behind and now with Common Core. Every teacher now has a set of “standards” for each tiny segment of “teaching” and each teacher is graded and rewarded and punished based on these measurements. But what are they measuring?

Well, now my child can add, subtract, multiply and divide, and my child certainly needs to know these things, but a robot can be taught these skills. In fact, a robot can be programmed to do just about everything these standards demand. But a robot cannot be inspired. And our good teachers are inspiring our children -- with no measurements and no criteria and no rewards.

Good teachers inspire children to climb out of the ghetto. Good teachers inspire teen-age girls to put off motherhood. Good teachers inspire ex-cons to re-enter society and become good citizens. Good teachers inspire young people to live exciting and challenging and fulfilling lives. Who measures this? Where is the “standard” to reward teachers for instilling self-confidence and curiosity and a hunger for learning? What school system promotes this? Which school superintendent even talks about this?

I salute all teachers. In the whirlwind of standards that must be counted and filed and reported, they still find time to inspire. No one sees this; no one rewards this; no one even thanks them. But I thank them. I do what I do today because great teachers stopped the spinning world of education to inspire me.

Yes, I learned some things. I learned math and languages and theology and law. I learned science and sociology and art. I learned psychology and epistemology. But these things are worthless without inspiration. They inspired me! That’s what good teachers do.

Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.

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