Why We Need to Celebrate Teachers and Teaching

By Bill Henk— Last weekend I had the pleasure of driving to the Packers game with three very successful gentlemen.

We somehow managed to arrive in Green Bay early enough to grab a quick lunch at a restaurant, and one of them, almost out of nowhere, started talking about a teacher who had made a profound difference in his life.  For the record, he did not know at the time that I was a dean of education.  Something just triggered his memory.

Anyway, no sooner had he finished, than a second heartfelt testimonial came forth from one of the other men.  At that point, I couldn’t resist asking the third if any teachers had made a major impact on his life, and he recounted fondly how more than one had.

What struck me was the genuinely transformative role the teachers had played in the lives of these men and how lovingly they talked about those relationships.  It had led one to consider college when he didn’t think that was in the cards for him.  It influenced the others’ choices about both where and what they would study.  Each shared how the breadth of knowledge, pedagogical skill, and passion of their teachers, as well as their care, concern, and encouragement had inspired them to take unfamiliar paths that eventually led to flourishing careers.

Fact is, I can point to my own set of educators whose influence has been game changing for me.  My 12th grade English teacher and my high school basketball coach stand out as exemplars along with some fine mentors I had as a Master’s student, and some amazing professors who helped me navigate my doctoral program.   With the exception of my parents, and probably the way I’m wired genetically, these educators made me who I am today, both professionally and personally.  And I am deeply grateful to each and every one of them.

For that matter, my guess is that nearly everyone can point to at least one teacher who literally changed their lives.

All of this leads me to go on record about why the Education Deans of Greater Milwaukee (EDGM) chose to host our Celebrate Teachers and Teaching (CT&T) event, which will be held the evening of Thursday, October 17th at the Great Lakes Distillery (616 W. Virginia Street) beginning at 7:00.

Frankly, we had grown weary of the misguided and unfair way that teachers in Wisconsin have been characterized in recent years.  Instead of enjoying society’s respect and admiration as they do in many other countries, they’ve had to endure being portrayed as lazy, uncaring, greedy, and ineffectual.  To a person, the education deans agreed in our meetings that the teachers we knew were NOTHING like that.

On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of teachers we’ve encountered possess vast stores of knowledge, remarkable instructional gifts, an extraordinary work ethic, and a deep and abiding love for their students.   Accordingly we decided that the appropriate course of action should take the form of honoring teachers in a public way, which gave rise to our CT&T event.

The highlight of the evening will be a brief awards program to recognize an early career teacher and five veteran teachers as well as those earning honorable mention, all around this year’s theme of urban education.  Teachers were nominated by their principals and these duos submitted dossiers that were evaluated by a distinguished panel of local judges.

The event will be a mix and mingle type with small plate food contributed by 11 of Milwaukee’s best restaurants.  In addition, there will be a cash bar and music provided by a DJ.  In short, the education deans want to make the event as special as the teachers we are honoring.

That’s where you can also come in. 

If you see yourself as a supporter of K-12 schooling or can simply point to one or more teachers who changed your life, then consider showing your appreciation by attending.  Just click here to register with the knowledge that all proceeds from the event will be used to establish a fund to sponsor teacher professional development and promote the field of teaching.

Please join us in showing our high regard for the profession.  Teachers clearly deserve our backing.


Dr. Bill Henk is in his 10th year as Dean of the College of Education at Marquette University.  Bill is a former English teacher and reading specialist who went on to complete his doctoral degree at West Virginia University in 1982.  He then served as a faculty member and administrator at the University of Georgia, Penn State, and Southern Illinois University until 2002, earning a national reputation in literacy before coming to Milwaukee.  At Marquette Bill has led his College’s efforts in national and state accreditation, the co-founding of the Greater Milwaukee Catholic Education Consortium, Teach For America, and the Marquette Educator blog, and most recently, its contributions to the Milwaukee Succeeds community partnership and a feasibility study for a Cristo Rey High School in Milwaukee. Read more about Dean Henk

1 Comment

  • Tim Thompson says:

    Sorry Mr. Henk, too little too late. The damage has been done. As you sit and collect your big bucks as Dean, remember who does the heavy lifting. Oh, by the way, if everyone likes teachers so much in this state, then why all the hate directed towards us. Wisconsin is in trouble. I became a teacher because I had terrible teachers who did very little. They never ever called me by name. I was a number. I went to a public school in Minneapolis that I would have gladly used a voucher to leave. Forget the respect angle, teachers don’t need it. I expect no thanks or fond memories and I do not think I am of any importance to kids, nor should I be. Parents are the most important factor in the success of children. As you sit in your plush Marquette digs, be well aware of the catholic church’s contempt for public education. The Catholic church has always had public education as its enemy. So do not say a word about public education from a catholic institution. Mind your own business, the business of dismantling public education that teaches evolution, birth control, freedom from religion and tolerance of others. Have a nice dinner, but spare me the sentiment. Sentiment is for losers. Perhaps teachers should read Ayn Rand and teach from her set of ethics. Teach from a purely selfish point of view.

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