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Slices of Life - Optimism on steroids

December 28, 2012
Jill Pertler - Columnist , Traer Star-Clipper

In previous columns, I defined parenthood as an infinite act of optimism. You enter the job with open arms and an open heart, trusting the child you've been entrusted with will learn, grow and love under your humble tutelage. Loving one child is optimistic two, doubly so. Imagine taking responsibility for 20, or maybe 25.

I define that as optimism on steroids.

As a parent, you get to keep the same kids season after season. As soon as you've known your own for about a minute and a half, they start to grow on you and you wouldn't dream of swapping them out for another set. In fact, the thought is painful; your heart can't even contemplate the idea.

Now, imagine swapping out your 20 for a new group each year. Just about the time you get to know the ones in your care, they up and move on to bigger and better things, leaving you to start all over with a couple dozen little newbie strangers.

I call that crazy optimism on steroids. Or, to use another term: the work of a teacher.

Teaching is near the top of the list of the most noble of professions, yet often one we take for granted. The majority of us send our children off each morning with homework in their backpacks and Froot Loops on their breaths and don't give it a second thought. We rest assured our kids will learn the multiplication facts, their spelling list for the week and the difference between a liquid and a solid. They'll eat lunch in the cafeteria, sing in the music room and play outside during recess. Through it all, they will be safe, because they are with their teacher.

Most teachers go into the profession because they love kids and want to educate them. Now, however, we ask a whole lot more. We expect them to teach to state and federal standards, when kids in their classroom may come to school hungry, or without a good night's sleep. We expect them to utilize technology and the latest in teaching techniques, when what some of their students need most is a hug. They are required to pacify demanding helicopter parents and make up for the absence of those too busy to come to school conferences. On top of everything else we ask them to keep our kids safe from things too evil to mention in the classroom.

Most teachers chose the profession knowing they'd need to keep kids safe. Safe from skinned knees during recess and sunburned shoulders during the spring field trip. They expected to lead discussions about Harriet Tubman and Christopher Columbus, not where to hide if a bad stranger enters the school. They expected to be familiar with the pull of a child's arms around their neck, not the weight of a lanyard with keys equipping them for lockdown at a moment's notice.

When I was a kid, the scariest thing at school was the tornado drill and it was just a drill. What we are currently experiencing is no longer a drill.

My mom taught first grade and forged in me a great respect for teachers. However, in all honesty (and with a bit of embarrassment) when my daughter, now a college junior, first expressed an interest in teaching, I hesitated. I wasn't sure I wanted her to go into the most noble of professions simply because of the sacrifices and risks and overwhelming expectations placed on teachers today. I fear what we are asking is becoming too much.

Like most 18-year-olds, she listened to me politely, and then went on to follow her own plans. People go into teaching because they are passionate about what they do; not based on advice from their mothers. It is a calling. You can't change that.

I could no more tell my daughter not to teach than she could tell me not to write.

So we are back to optimism on steroids. Said another way, teaching is a headfirst dive into the deep end of idealism with an enduring and intrinsic trust in one's own buoyancy. Teachers have become lifeguards in the true sense of the word. As far as I'm concerned, they've been in the deep end long enough. It's time we throw them a life preserver, drape a warm dry towel over their shoulders and show them, by our actions, how important they are not only to our children, but to all of us.

Follow Slices of Life on Facebook and hit Like (please). Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, playwright and author of "The Do-It-Yourselfer's Guide to Self-Syndication" Email her at; or visit her updated website at



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