As a new school year begins

Published 4:25 pm Monday, August 29, 2022

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My first day on the campus of the City University of New York, I stood in line at the bookstore, waiting to purchase the book I needed for my Intro to Education class. The student behind me audibly moaned and said “Oh no! I got Professor Minna Goldman for my education class!”  Since I was also registered for her class, I turned around and asked him, what’s wrong with Minna Goldman?  He looked at me and said slowly, “Minna Goldman is the gold standard of teaching education, nobody I know got an A in her class. When she’s done with you, you will know everything there is about educating children, but she is very tough”. I did get Professor Goldman who was also the Chair of Education Studies at the Bank Street College of New York, and she was tough! I did get A’s in both of the classes I took with her, and I she gave me a love of educating children. I wanted to be like Minna Goldman, a teacher who set a standard of excellence for her students.

Soon I realized Professor Goldman taught me what my teachers at Washington Elementary and Grade School as well as P. S. Jones High School already knew.   Education is more than just teaching academics to students.  The teachers I had in my school years were dedicated, loving, stern when needed, resourceful, caring and well educated themselves.   I did not appreciate Mrs. Simpkins French class until I studied Les Miserable in college and learned it was first performed in French. I did not appreciate my fourth-grade teacher Miss Foreman introducing us to opera until I saw Pogy and Bess during a college class and learned it had become a symbol of American culture around the world. Our music teacher, Mrs. Randolph, taught us songs in other languages, and I still remember them to this day.  Mr. Wilkins taught me the mysteries of science and Mrs. Brothers gave me a love of history.  By the time I got to college, I realized I had received a first-class education and I wish I could go back and thank every one of my teachers.

The teachers cared about us students.  We had devotion every morning in elementary school before class time begun.  And some teachers taught us short Bible stories to teach us about developing good character.  Some teachers in high school could somehow sense how the students were doing that morning, and some would ask if we were okay.  Some teachers brought extra lunch to school to share with children who had none or would give them lunch money to go to the cafeteria to buy lunch. Some teachers paid for class trips out of their own pockets if a child didn’t have the money.  One teacher, Mrs. Hattie Johnson, was a special angel sent to my children the year we moved from the Bronx, New York to Washington for a year. She was everything from a teacher to a minister to a cheerleader who encouraged my children and embraced them as her own.

Times have changed, academia has changed a lot, but teaching is still a great time-honored profession.  Professor Goldman was right.  Every profession has its foundation on the groundwork teachers have laid.  And children learn a lot about the world from their teachers. Teachers can help to build strong foundations in children.  As the children go back to school this week, our community needs to appreciate, thank and pray for the staff, administrators, and all those involved in the education and nurturing of our children.  As the school busses pass our homes, let us lift prayers for the bus drivers.  The cafeteria workers who provide nourishing lunches for the children, and those workers who keep our schools clean and safe need special thanks and prayers as well.

As a former career educator, I know the prayers and appreciation for all that schools provide can be the stability of our communities. Please join me in praying for a blessed, safe and prosperous school year for the school staff, children and their families.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-founder and co-executive director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.