The Art of Teaching: A Big Round of Applause for
Teachers All Across Connecticut
May 5th – 9th is National Teacher Appreciation Week and today is a perfect day to celebrate every educator who has dedicated their lives to the intellectual, social, physical, and spiritual wellbeing of others. There are an estimated 44,000+ teachers in Connecticut and each and every one of them deserves respect. Teaching is a unique profession that requires an expertise in history, research, lived experiences, language, culture, sociology, psychology, mathematics, and the humanities. Those who spend time in the classroom quickly learn to be the greatest proponents of American democracy. Every classroom, even the homogenous one, is a heterogeneous pastiche of individuality and personalities. Teachers are listeners, mentors, experts, coaches, entertainers, wizards, and scientists. As John Mastroianni, Connecticut’s 2014 Teacher of the Year, recently stated, “Teaching is an art.” So, teachers are artists, too.
I write to celebrate all the teachers across Connecticut, yet use this space to highlight Mr. Shaun Mitchell, an English and Theater teacher at Central High School in Bridgeport. This week, he has been named one of two educators to receive the 2014 Theodore and Margaret Beard Excellence in Teaching Award. In March, Mr. Mitchell debuted Central High School’s 1st Annual Young Playwright’s Festival – a program based off the Ten-Minute Play Festivals hosted by Actor’s Theater in Louisville, Kentucky. Throughout this year Mitchell has collaborated with CWP-Fairfield to guide students to brainstorm, draft, write, and edit original scripts. He later casted them, blocked them, and produced them for sold-out performances. The playwright festival was pro-youth and allowed his students to write about their lives, to communicate their dreams and to take action with their words. Mr. Mitchell’s energy, enthusiasm, and zest are contagious and he is an excellent representation of the National Writing Project mission - that is, the need to invest in more teacher leaders to become ‘agents of reform’ in American schools.
Yet, too often such teaching accomplishments go unnoticed. The more politically palatable trend is to rehash negative stories about public school teachers, especially those in urban schools. These thinkers use deficit-constructions to highlight what public schools cannot accomplish rather than what they can and do accomplish every day. They create a state of fear so that the larger political issues of poverty, oppression, and inequity are swept under the carpet. Achievements like Mr. Mitchell’s playwriting festival are ubiquitous throughout the State of Connecticut, but rarely get local and national press.
The work teachers like Mr. Mitchell do in their classrooms is immeasurable. There is no test to quantify or qualify the percentage of lives these teachers touch. They deserve much more respect. Our nation’s recent test-crazed anarchy provides better data for political avarice and shortsighted hubris than it does for what educators accomplish in their classrooms when they are given time to actually teach. We know that the best work occurs when teachers are provided resources, when they are treated as professionals, and when they are trusted to do what they’ve been hired to do.
So this is a ‘shout out’ for the teaching-artists of Connecticut: you sculpt, you shape, you design, you envision, you imagine, and you provide hope for a better tomorrow. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! You deserve better than what’s been given you these last few years. You deserve to be admired.