In my youth, I could best be described as clumsy and uncoordinated. Over the years I flirted with various sports and activities, but any demonstrable proficiency was elusive. Case in point: tryouts for the middle school track team. The coaches determined individual prowess by using a three-pronged approach: height, vertical and the telling 50-yard dash.
Well, I topped out at 5-foot-3 in the ninth grade and couldn’t manage to jump rope without tripping, so clearly I was not cut out for hurdles, pole vaulting or the long jump. Moreover, I had an unfortunate run-in with a faulty furnace the year before that resulted in carbon monoxide poisoning. The residual symptoms – which mirrored asthma – left me in wheezing into last place on the dash.
Not knowing what to do with me, the coaches assigned me to the shot-put and discus. I could not have been more ill-suited for these events than if I had been assigned the task of shrinking the national debt. I think I still hold the record as the only student to ever come up with negative distance on the discus because I over-rotated on the release. Needless to say, my track career was short lived and I quit the team within two weeks.
My freshman year of high school, I joined the tennis team. It was ideal since it mostly consisted of other girls who likewise had made an attempt at other sports such soccer, volleyball, softball and track. We were united more so for our shared inabilities in other sports than our skills on the tennis court. But we were a team.
Unfortunately, I ended up attending three different high schools in three different states, and it was difficult to break into a new team every season. I had started high school in rural Kansas and finished in Southern California, a transition that proved fatal to my tennis “career.”
After getting my derrière handed to me by a competitor from Beverly Hills High who had been playing since age 4 (resulting in my demotion back to the freshman bracket), tennis was relegated to something I had done in high school, another page in the yearbook.
Now at each step in the process I wanted to give up. I desperately craved the safety of the classroom. But each and every time, there was a teacher who told me to put down the book, go outside and just try. It took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to cope with rejection and measure success in smaller increments – such as running one (very slow) mile without walking.
Those teachers helped to develop and strengthen my inner constitution. I am not an isolated case. I’m sure many of you remember those who pushed you to be better, to have more confidence in your weaknesses. I think, however, our county government leaders forgot.
This week, DeKalb County hoisted its budget shortfalls on the shoulders of teachers who are already underpaid and overworked. DeKalb plans to include more furlough days for public school teachers in the coming school year. Not only does it devalue some of the most important people in development process of tomorrow’s leaders, but it will almost certainly drive away some very qualified and needed new teachers.
Teachers do more than teach. They mentor, counsel, support and help raise our children. I urge the county leaders to reconsider their decision. Teachers already bear the burden of educating our youth in today’s troubled times. We should not expect them pick up the tab for it, too.