Thursday, June 21, 2018
Opinion

Give thanks for Florida's teachers

As we enjoy this Thanksgiving weekend, we should remember our teachers when we give thanks.

We entrust them with our most precious assets, our children. Teachers welcome students from all walks of life into their classrooms. The students come with varying ability levels. They come with varying levels of enthusiasm toward school. They come with varying levels of parent involvement in their home lives. Some, sadly, even come without their most basic needs being met at home. Yet with all of these things considered, teachers, every school day, get down to the business of educating all students.

Consider these facts. According to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress, Florida's students with disabilities rank first in the nation in gains on the combined fourth- and eighth- grade measures, and Florida's low-income students had the third-largest gains in the same measures. According to the 2011 National Council on Teacher Quality report, Florida earned a B, the highest grade in the history of the report.

According to statistics from the Florida Department of Education and the National Governors Association, graduation rates have improved by approximately 20 percent for all students over the past decade. Furthermore, the gains were similar in the black and Hispanic populations. Thanks to our teachers, we also have 10 times as many A and B versus D and F schools compared to a decade ago.

Simply put, our teachers have played a central role in the real outcomes and improvements we've seen in the Sunshine State. We still have a ways to go in Florida, but teachers have been crucial in getting us where we are today and will, without a doubt, be instrumental in getting us to the next level.

I could cite scores of facts and statistics about teachers' accomplishments in Florida, but it's also important to remember the intangible ways that teachers touch students' lives. That takes me back to my childhood. Having excelled in elementary school, I allowed myself to get off track during the critical middle school years. My middle school teachers were up against some of those external forces that I mentioned above and, for their part, pushed me in the right direction.

In high school, I decided to get my act together and take school more seriously. One of my first steps was to enroll in Algebra I in the 10th grade, a course that many students had completed in the eighth grade. Enter my Algebra I teacher. She recognized my abilities and quickly intervened to get my course of study accelerated and get me more interested in academics across the board. I ended up in several honor societies including the National Honor Society and Mu Alpha Theta, the math honor society.

Even after my late start, I also ended up ready to take calculus during my first semester of college. Thanks to this caring teacher, and many special teachers along the way, I graduated in the top 10 percent of my class and was poised for a successful college career. My personal experience is just one of literally thousands that demonstrate how teachers improve outcomes one student at a time.

I'm sure that most of you can look back to a teacher who played a pivotal role in your life, and Florida's teachers will continue to positively impact generations of students to come. To be sure, teachers deserve our thanks year round, but I encourage you to personally acknowledge the efforts and accomplishments of each teacher that you come into contact with during this season of thanks. They deserve it.

Stacy R. White is a member of the Hillsborough County School Board.

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