Larry Efird: Why we need teachers

Published 12:53 am Sunday, September 25, 2016

There are times as an educator when I wonder what my primary role as a teacher really is. That might sound strange coming from a veteran teacher (i.e. old), but when I read the news and hear things about education on television, it makes me wonder if those who are reporting really know what teachers do on a daily basis and why we need teachers in the 21st century. There might even be a few parents who wonder the same thing.

Twenty years ago, I had a parent conference with the mother of a sophomore who was struggling in my class. As our conference concluded, I realized the mother’s actual concern was not with the girl’s classroom performance, but with the fact that her daughter wanted to be a teacher after she graduated. When I figured that out, I tactfully asked the mother why she didn’t want her daughter to become a teacher. Without any reservation she said, “Because I want her to do more than you do.”

At first, I thought I had misunderstood what she had said, but then I asked her again, and she repeated the same words. I was a little bit stunned by her forthrightness; however, I realized she was entitled to her own opinion, but I also wondered if the mother had considered that for her daughter to “do more than I do,” someone would have to teach her.

Why do we need teachers? One reason might be so we can teach our students to become whatever they want to become in life, even if that means “doing more” than we do ourselves. That doesn’t threaten me; it actually excites me. I love hearing about the careers of my former students and knowing they are out in the world making their own impact.

A couple of weeks ago, my honors English class was reading a difficult passage orally. For the sake of time, and so we could finish before the bell rang, I told the class that I would read and paraphrase the rest of the passage simultaneously. One young man innocently asked, “Can you read and paraphrase at the same time?” I told him I could, and then he replied, “That’s some upper level thinkin’ right there!”

Why do we need teachers? Another reason might be that we need to teach our students how to do some “upper level thinkin’ ” so they can become good critical thinkers as they navigate their lives through the increasingly muddled world they live in.

I, myself, was blessed to have had grandparents and parents who taught me at home how to become a good citizen and how to work with others, even if I found myself in disagreement with them. I’ve often referred to my family as the “bookends” of my life, which provided a great sense of security and stability as I grew older and went out on my own. Those of us who were children in the 1960s needed some extra security because the world went crazy for about a decade. Just ask Forrest Gump.

But even with all the security I had from my family, and having them as the “bookends” of my life, teachers became the “adjustable bookshelves” from which I could see life from different perspectives. I didn’t always have to change my beliefs, but I could change my understandings of those beliefs. The biggest lesson was learning that everyone in the world did not have to think like I did to be right. We were free to have different opinions.

Students today are much better at accepting others than we were when I was young. That’s because the world is much more diverse, and they can accept differences more easily than my generation did. But they still need teachers to help them learn how to express themselves and how to shape their worldviews, even if they have a supportive family like I did. Sadly, more and more students today don’t have any “family bookends.” They lack the security of knowing who they are and how they fit in.

Why do we need teachers? Hopefully, it  doesn’t require much “upper level thinkin’” to figure that out.


Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis.