Steffanie Rivers

Steffanie Rivers

My mother was my first teacher.

Every trip to the grocery store was a math lesson in how to count money. Every conversation was likely to become an exercise in grammar and enunciation. She regularly called my teachers to check on my behavior in class.

One year when I was assigned to a teacher who didn’t meet her standards, my mother had me transferred to another class. She checked my homework everyday, and if I had no homework she created some. If the term “involved single parent” was listed in Webster’s, there would have been a picture of my mother next to it. She had high expectations of me and those responsible for my education. As a child I hated it! As an adult I’m thankful.

So when I heard about the colossal failures of those now convicted Atlanta Public School educators who cared more about the appearance of achievement than the potential damage their actions might create for a generation of children, I can’t decide who’s more at fault: the educators themselves or the parents of the students.

Teachers – at the direction of administrators – conspired to correct wrong answers on standardized tests, because salary bonuses and government funding for schools where connected to test results. This wasn’t a one time lapse of ethics. Investigators said cheating had been going on for years before the scandal was uncovered. Apparently their temporary monetary gain was more important than the long-term disadvantage created by illiteracy that often leads to under-employment, negative stereotypes and missed opportunities. The miseducation of (mostly) black children by black adults adds insult to injury.

Clearly their actions show teachers cared more about the money and staying employed in a defunct system – some say they were threatened with termination if they refused to go along with cheating – than equipping their students with the skills to succeed.

But what excuse did parents give? If Johnny can’t read, write or count money at the grocery store checkout his parents should have realized it and questioned his teachers about his deficiencies. Most parents claim to want more for their children than they have achieved. There’s more to good parenting than just providing food, clothes and shelter.

In this world of instant gratification where people want the rewards of success without doing the work that comes before it, it’s easy to forget life’s greatest achievements start by mastering the fundamentals. Teachers and parents who offer less than the best chance at success for the children in their care probably don’t need to be teachers or parents.

Behind every successful adult is a long line of teachers, coaches and parents who gave their time, talents and resources to insure children in their care received the best they had to offer. On behalf of all of us, you are appreciated.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Email her at [email protected] to share comments, questions and speaking inquiries.