The who is what truly matters

While many school systems throughout our nation have already opened their doors, we can safely assume that in the next two weeks all schools — public and private — will welcome about 55 million students nationwide to the 2015/16 school year. About one sixth of our nation’s entire population will be attending school anywhere from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Who will greet them? More than 3 million teachers. One of them is my son Nick, who at age 22 will be teaching ninth grade students at an Indianapolis charter school.

It may behoove us to think about who the teachers as individuals are. For a moment, suspend your beliefs about Common Core, standardized testing, teachers unions, merit pay, retirement funds, and the many other politicized ideas about education. Instead, take a moment to reflect on who is standing in front of the 55 million students, among whom will be our future presidents, CEOs, religious leaders, entrepreneurs, and — yes — teachers of our grandchildren.

The curriculum content matters. The pedagogy — the “how” we teach — matters. The “why” or to what ends we teach matters. What matters most, in my opinion, is the person who is doing the teaching. It matters most because the great teachers connect with their students. “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique (or scores on standardized tests); good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher,” writes Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach.

As we open this school year, let’s work with our teachers by recognizing the simple truth that they are the single most important element in this massive enterprise, around which we have created various school boards and departments of education. According to Palmer, good teachers teach “because they love learners, learning, and the teaching life.”

On that note, I wish all the teachers, including my son, a great year of connecting with their students. Let’s remember the teachers who made a profound impression on us. I dare say we remember best — and with much fondness — the teachers who shared of themselves in our classrooms, the teachers who connected with us.

Ben Hebebrand is serving his first year as Head of School for Madison Country Day School, Dane County’s only independent Pre-K-12 school, offering a challenging and comprehensive college-preparatory education and the Madison area’s only International Baccalaureate program.  Hebebrand earned a BA in English/Theatre and Intercultural Studies/European Languages from Warren Wilson College, a MA in Communications from Georgia State University, and a Gifted Education Master’s Certificate from Northwestern University. A native of Germany with proficiency in several languages, Hebebrand offers MCDS a global perspective that fits well with the school’s stated goal to “measure the curriculum and student achievement against the finest programs in the world.”

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