Check out the Academy for Teachers for an inspiring look at what one group is doing to celebrate teaching in America. As the website announces:
We honor and support good teaching, which means we’re all about passion for a subject, creativity in the classroom, and devotion to students. The Academy brings strong teachers together with leading experts and artists for inspiring events held in partnership with New York City’s great institutions. In so doing, we raise respect for the teaching profession.
The brain wave of Sam Swope, teacher and author of wonderful children’s books (see The Araboolies of Liberty Street, The Krazeees, and Gotta Go, Gotta Go!) as well as of I Am a Pencil: A Teacher, His Kids, and Their World of Stories. Through personality, perseverance, and panache, Swope called on a number of institutions in and around New York City, and particularly the New York Public Library, to join forces with him in founding this Academy, for which teachers are nominated by personalities including the novelist Daniel Alarcón, New York Times writer Frank Bruni, African American folklorist Maria Tatar, and many many others.
I know that the teachers who are part of this program benefit enormously from it, and I know that they take their new knowledge back to their students. But what most impresses me about the Academy is its quiet insistence on the importance of teaching, of its focus on the reach good teachers have across generations of students, and of its reflection of our deep need, as a society, to recognize and celebrate these teachers and their work. Toward that end, the Academy has launched a new initiative, publication of tiny chapbooks in which contemporary authors write about a teacher who inspired them. I’ve read several of the chapbooks so far and have been entranced with the stories they tell. For example, Karen Russell, whose first novel, Swamplandia!, was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer in fiction writes
But then there was Mr. Blackmon, who was in a category all his own. His . . . courses were on par with the best classes I have taken at the graduate level. . . . It’s not an exaggeration to say that Mr. Blackmon’s teaching changed the course of my life. He took us on a field trip to the University of Miami library, showed us how to research using their amazing, labyrinthine archives. I sat in a glue-scented study carrel next to bona fide college students, reading a biography of Julius K. Nyerere. I wrote twenty-page papers for Mr. Blackmon about African socialism in Tanzania, about the politics of the Panama Canal... I have never studied harder for any class . . . and in the process we became more conscious and deliberate and flexible and knowledgeable and curious. We argued, we listened to one another’s positions, we learned to ask better questions, we read and read and read, we redrew our maps of where we could go, who we might become. We grew up.
It strikes me that most of us teachers of writing could write our own chapbooks about a Mr. or Ms. Blackmon, about a teacher who meant the world to us, who helped us grow up and into ourselves. And perhaps we should write those, and, in the bargain, honor the spirit of the Academy for Teachers. If you have any stories of those teachers, feel free to share them in the comments—or, if you take it upon yourself to create your own chapbook, feel free to send it my way.