Thank you Mrs. Francis, Mrs. McGuire, Mrs. Greenwald and Mrs. Thomas

Jeff vonKaenel

They are nervous and excited. It’s the first day of school. Hundreds of thousands of Sacramento students are thinking about what they will wear. Wondering who will be in their class. Hoping to do well this year. And, of course, wondering about their teacher or teachers.

When I think about my youth, I do not think about it by year, but rather by teachers. Mrs. Francis in the first grade, Mrs. McGuire in the second grade, Mrs. Greenwald in the third grade, Mrs. Thomas in the fourth grade, and so on. I spent more time with them in a room than with any other adults, even my parents.

What’s more, we had this ongoing enjoyment of our mutual undertaking: learning multiplication tables, diagramming a sentence, discovering the magic of science, making a free throw and the thousands of other skills I mastered at school.

It was never just the subject matter. It was the teacher’s love of stories that made English come alive. The teacher’s enthusiasm for history that made it fun. Their delight in science that spread through the class. When I think of my youth, one of the most joyous times I ever had was listening to my third grade teacher read stories. When she read us scary stories about witches and stuff, my classmates ate up every word.

Everything about schools is important. Testing, math, English, biology, including evolution and sex education. But what I remember most are the teachers. Their ability to control a classroom, to explain complex concepts and to show love.

My children and I had a few fair teachers, many good teachers and some amazing teachers. I feel very grateful, for their job seems overwhelmingly difficult. And it seems especially difficult to do well. The very idea that one can keep young children sitting inside all day learning math, English, history or science frankly seems ridiculous. Yet that is the mandate.

Over the last few years, I have had the pleasure of working with dozens of traditional schools and charter schools telling their stories through the News & Review’s client publication division. And I have spent hundreds of hours with teachers discussing what’s important at school, different educational philosophies and how they relate to students.

Consistently, teachers’ faces light up when talking about students. They take pride in making an impact in their students lives. They feel heartbreak when their students suffer. It seems that teaching is more of a calling than a job.

I never thanked my elementary school teachers or any of my junior high or high school teachers, with the exception of my swim coach. I never told them how much they meant to me, how many of my accomplishments are based on their efforts. But I certainly feel it now.

In California, we will soon have the first day of the new legislative session. There will be many educational issues to consider. School funding, education curriculum. Bathroom designations and charter school discussions. Many words will be spoken; many heated words. But let us make sure that two words are included in all of our discussions about school. Thank you. One of which is a verb and the other the object of that verb, according to Mrs. Thomas.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.