VBEA president on American Education Week

The following is the address given by Virginia Beach Education Association president Trenace Riggs during the Nov. 17, 2015 Virginia Beach City Public Schools school board meeting. 

This isn’t merely a commemoration of American Education Week. It isn’t just a simple acknowledgement and then we move on and forget the hardworking teachers, support staff, administrators, volunteers – and students – who make Virginia Beach City Public Schools the great schools they are.

Our schools are places with open doors, open minds and open hearts. It’s something we need to take time to appreciate not just on designated days or weeks, but year round. That appreciation not only needs a sincere thank you, it needs sincere compensation and recognition.

We take for granted the people who open up the building every morning, and the people who open the doors to the buses and diligently bring our students to school every day.  We take for granted our great teachers who we count on to enrich and expand the minds of everyone who comes into their classroom, and open their hearts to the world.

They welcome everyone – with open doors, open minds and open hearts.

Great public schools are a basic right, and our responsibility, and it’s a responsibility everyone associated with them takes seriously.

Every student comes into the classroom carrying a heavy backpack of burdens – broken homes, poverty, perhaps violence or drugs, trying to keep up, trying to catch up, all the while trying to get a leg up.

Even for ones whose backpack of burdens doesn’t seem so severe on the surface, there are still other burdens – or perhaps pressures – which make that backpack a heavy one.

Peer pressure, academic pressure, athletic pressure, mental and emotional pressure. No matter the student, each has his or her own backpack of burdens. These students, nonetheless, have great dreams, and those great dreams need great teachers.

Our teachers open their doors in order to enrich their students’ minds and open their hearts. They do it amidst these many challenges, AND as teachers add roles to their job description – counselor, coach, mentor, mediator, motivator, a resource person, enforcer – and have placed upon them added burdens in paperwork and extra duties which result in lost planning. That’s in addition to the meetings, interruptions and other changes which result in teachers leaving the building long after students are gone, and then taking their grading and planning home.

They don’t have a choice in who comes through their classroom doors, and yet they have to quickly assess what is in each student’s unique backpack of burdens to determine how best to turn his or her time in school into a productive one in which they can comfortably remove that backpack from their shoulders  ­- all the while providing them with the best environment in which to enrich their minds.

Our teachers, and all those who work for Virginia Beach City Public Schools deserve more than our sincere thanks and gratitude.

They deserve sincere compensation and sincere recognition, and they deserve to be heard with sincerity when they say they’re overburdened with large classes, when they tell us they have too little time to plan, when they say their students face too many standardized tests or are facing their backpack of burdens.

The work our teachers do is life-changing and life-affirming. They open their doors, enrich minds and open hearts, and for the myriad roles they play in the lives of their students, and their community, we owe them complete sincerity.