BY DAVID PERRYMAN
By bedtime the network news, the local news and YouTube had “spanned the globe” with video proof of why we in the heartland love Kevin Durant.
As “our” No. 35 ended his acceptance speech, he turned to Wanda Pratt, his mother, and reminded her that based upon the hand that they were dealt, he was not supposed to be at that podium and she was not supposed to be in that audience.
Before literally millions of witnesses, the hearts of Kevin Durant and his mother communicated as if there were not another living soul for miles around. Free of distraction Kevin focused his love on a mother who had spent her lifetime focusing hers on him.
On a day that coincidentally fell day during Mothers’ Day Week, Kevin told HIS mom, “You made us believe. You kept us off the street. You put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn’t eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us” and fighting back tears, KD humbly proclaimed, “You’re the real MVP.”
Kevin Durant was right. Facing odds that were so long that many would have given up in despair, Wanda Pratt, did what was necessary to protect, nurture and encourage her two boys toward excellence.
With that same focused passion as “Mama Durant,” teachers in classrooms across Oklahoma strive tirelessly to help their students excel. We readily accept that Wanda Pratt’s unselfishness and sacrifice was guided by love.
More difficult is a quest to determine why Oklahoma’s classroom teachers rise to the challenge of educating our children despite substandard wages, a lack of societal respect and the onslaught of endless tests designed to debilitate teacher and student morale.
What is the motivation for Oklahoma’s teachers to get out of bed before daybreak, teach all day and lug papers home to grade before turning in just to repeat the entire process the next day?
The cynical would say they do it for the money. The misanthropic would say that they do it for a lucrative retirement benefit. The contemptuous would say that they do it because it is “only a part-time job.” The sarcastic would say that they do it for gifts of apples, paperweights and candy.
They would all be wrong.
Why do teachers teach? Paraphrasing Elena Aguilar, an Edutopia blogger-teacher, some see teaching as a means of changing the world by guiding their students to become empowered, literate, engaged, creative and liberated human beings who may also in time join the effort to change the world.
Others see the potential in their students and thrive on helping them discover their skills and passions. Some teach because they have seen children who didn’t make it. They are motivated by the fervent desire to avoid having the heartache of seeing even one more child become a gang member or an inmate.
One teacher responded, “A teacher can change destiny. Teaching is an honorable job that consists of holding the torch of light, of change and of permanent impact.”
Another teacher said, “A former student walked into my room today. As a fourth grader he was quiet and struggled with school work. His home life was difficult, to say the least, and any support that he received came from teachers and staff. We worked together and he and his siblings moved from grade to grade. As he left elementary, we didn’t know what would become of him. Today he handed me an invitation to his high school graduation. He is composed and well spoken. He is moving on to study mathematics. I can’t stop smiling. This is why I teach.”
Many posted that their greatest reward is the look on a student’s faces when the light comes on as a new concept is understood. Most report that they teach for the fulfillment of helping others; there is not a more rewarding feeling.
One post said, “I teach because I remember back when I was in second grade and my teacher allowed me to have a voice in our classroom. She showed me that children have valid opinions and genuine emotions.”
The major characteristic of a good teacher is their driving passion to reach the minds and hearts of their children by whatever means possible. That very characteristic has worked against teachers for decades. No matter how little the state or school system gives them to do their job, that passion drives them to find a way regardless. The result often times is “well, if they can do it without paper or salary or …” you fill in the blank “… then why give it to them in the first place?”
Is this the reason the Legislature and the governor suppress teacher pay? Is this why they strive to privatize teacher retirement? Is there any pride in telling teachers and students that we place more value on them than the children of Mississippi, but less value than those of the 48 other states?
The odds were stacked against Wanda Pratt and her children. She did what she had to do. The odds are also stacked against our teachers as they do what they have to do with embarrassingly meager funding to make our children believe … to keep our children off the streets.
Those teachers, one and all, are Oklahoma’s real MVPs.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives