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A few weeks ago I climbed the steps at 100 East End Avenue in New York, which the independent Chapin school calls home. I was there to celebrate teachers, the mission driving The Academy for Teachers, a nonprofit dedicated to honoring and supporting teachers “as valued professionals in need of the latest knowledge and inspiration.” Conceived of and directed by teacher and writer Sam Swope (see his The Araboolies of Liberty Street and I am a Pencil, for example), the Academy urges all of us to give teachers the R E S P E C T that Aretha sings about, along with “the support they need to keep them where they belong—in the classroom inspiring our children for years to come.”
In pursuit of this goal, Sam and his team at the Academy offer “master classes” for teachers from public, private, and charter schools to attend three ninety-minute sessions led by artists and thinkers like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Gloria Steinem, Jane Goodall, Julia Alvarez, Robert Battle, and others. The intense workshops and conversations led by these experts continue to enrich and inspire the teachers who get to spend time with them, so much so that these teachers are four times more likely than others to stay in the classroom, often against the great odds that all of us know about.
The faculty for these master classes come from across the disciplines and artistic fields. On this particular evening, we are gathering to hear The Kronos Quartet perform “A Teacher’s Suite,” commissioned by the Academy to honor teachers and featuring the voices of many of the Academy fellows who have participated in master classes. Kronos had led transformative master classes for the Academy, working with teachers of music to bring new ways of thinking and experiencing music into their classrooms, and this concert followed up on those classes and showcased Kronos’s own interest in and dedication to teaching and to learning.
I was sitting with a large group of teachers that evening as we experienced the magic that Kronos so often produces: I could actually feel the room expand with hope and pride as the music cascading around us, could feel what it means for teachers to feel honored and respected. Such a small thing, giving respect. And yet it can change lives and, perhaps, the world.
In addition to master classes and special performances, the Academy publishes small chapbooks, written by master class teachers—about a teacher who was important to them. I have a collection of these gems, and looking through them now I’m drawn to one by Jacqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming. She remembers “Ms. Pat,” who “taught me most about what it meant to move through the world as an empath, as a philanthropist, as a thinker, as a doer, as a truly good human being.” Ms. Pat, she goes on, “rarely stepped into our classrooms. Instead, she invited us into her office—and she guided us. She truly guided us.” A teacher like that, Woodson concludes, “stays with you for a lifetime.”
I hope that each of us has a “Ms. Pat” held close in our memories, and I hope that our students will all encounter such teachers, those who will be with them for a lifetime. In the meantime, if you are reading this and have a few spare moments, check out the Academy for Teachers, and consider contributing to their mission. Director Sam Swope dreams of similar academies springing up in cities across the country, all dedicated to supporting and honoring teachers. That’s a dream I can believe in.
Image by Kenny Eliason.
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