November 15, 2012 11:06:32 AM
Carmen K. Sisson - firstname.lastname@example.org
Approximately 800 teachers attended the third annual "Educators are Essential" program Wednesday at Mississippi University for Women's Rent Auditorium.
The event, made possible by the Columbus-Lowndes Development Link's education committee, MUW and corporate sponsors, was organized to shine a spotlight on the overlooked role teachers play in shaping students' lives.
"Everybody has a teacher they remember," said Macaulay Whitaker, vice-president of the Link's chamber of commerce division. "You may not remember everything you learned in school, but you remember the teachers who taught it to you. We wanted them to know how important they are to us."
Canton Public School District Superintendent Dwight Luckett was the keynote speaker, offering words of encouragement to the audience.
Teachers play an especially critical role in the lives of students for whom there may not be a positive role model in the home, he said. Many in the crowd nodded when he talked about those children bringing bad behaviors into the classroom, forcing teachers to first spend time teaching positive behavior and social skills.
"Ignorance is dangerous," Luckett said. "It can destroy, and it usually does. So much is left up to us to take care of, but sometimes we are all our children have. We make the difference."
Statistics indicate if one adult shows a child they care, that child will be successful, he said.
He told the story of a student who sent a letter to him after she was out of school. In the letter, she told him that she was brutally raped when she was younger, but her mother was too addicted to drugs to be of much help. As she struggled to take care of her siblings and recover from her trauma, she often wished he would see what she would not say.
She wanted to let Luckett know what a profound impact he had made on her life through just a handful of small kindnesses.
"Once they know we care, we can teach them," he said. "Continue to make a difference. God knows the task is monumental, but you are up for it -- you do it every day."
Teachers may get some help from a new initiative organized by the Link's education committee and introduced today as part of the American Education Week festivities.
"Partnership for Academic Success," or PAS, will take a three-pronged approach to solving the challenges students face. The objectives include raising parental awareness of free educational resources, increasing community support and building legislative relationships to encourage laws which help schools.
Germain McConnell, director of academic affairs for Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science, introduced the PAS initiative and echoed Luckett's sentiments regarding the roles teachers play inside and outside the classroom.
"As educators, we do all we can do, but sometimes educating children is not the sole reponsibility of schools," McConnell said. "What happens to children before they enter the school, what happens outside the school, influences how well that child can succeed."
Kindergarten teacher Amy Crownover has been an educator for 21 years, the past five of which have been spent at Caledonia Elementary School.
Wednesday was her first time to attend the "Educators are Essential" program, and she said she was inspired by the passion of her fellow teachers, some of whom had been teaching more than 45 years.
"I've always loved my kids," she said. "I feel like they are our future. They deserve the best they can get. It's great to know the community appreciates the work teachers do."
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.