It’s time to give teachers a pep talk. Last Thursday, I was the luncheon speaker at the retired teachers annual convention. They wanted to hear about Maine travel, but before I could get to that, it seemed important to let them know they are appreciated.

About every ten years, I write about teachers in this editorial page column. In 1994 the headline was, “Teachers don’t have the summer off.” In 2001, it was “Good education still needs good teachers teaching.” And in 2010, the headline read, “Teacher’s main goal and hope is to inspire kids to love learning.”

In that last column, I wrote that my second-grade teacher, Marie Adell, my high school math teacher Vaughn Curtis, my history teacher Irene Hibbs, my music teacher Frank Stevens, even my basketball coaches, all played important roles in my young life.

One of my business professors at the University of Maine once asked us to write a paper about how the world would be changed by technology in 50 years. I wrote a series of fictional stories set in the future. The professor loved the stories, read them to the class, and told me I should be a writer. I never forgot his encouraging words. And that’s what good teachers are: great encouragers.

If you read any of these previous columns, you know I am married to a first-grade teacher. She says it’s good training for dealing with me. Teaching for Linda is a year-round more-than-full-time profession and, in her case, obsession. She’s always reading, researching, preparing lessons, doing grades, talking with parents, and studying to be the very best teacher she can be.

During the school year, if we are in the living room watching TV, she’s cutting out things and working on lesson plans and answering emailed messages from parents. When we go on our travel column trips, I bring a novel. She brings schoolwork.


Two years ago, I had to cancel a planned week at camp because she wanted to take a summer course. I just laugh when I hear someone say teachers are lucky because they have the summer off. They’re definitely not married to one.

While she rarely takes a sick day, if she is seriously sick, she gets up at 5:30 am, calls in to alert them to her absence, fires up the computer and whips up lesson plans for the day, and then drives to school to deliver them. Six years ago, a newspaper survey found that the majority of teachers don’t use all their sick days. In our school district, four teachers took no sick days. This amazes me, because all you have to do to get sick is spend one December day in an elementary school classroom. Sickness city.

And then they’re always changing the textbooks, standards, tests, evaluation procedures and now computers. I fear sometimes that we’re losing sight of the most important ingredient in our educational system: classroom teachers.

All we can really expect and hope for is that children leave our classrooms having learned to love learning. It is a passion that is critical to their success. I tell students from first grade to college level, if you can read, comprehend what you are reading, and write and speak well, you are going to be a success.

I helped with poetry day last year at the Mount Vernon Elementary School. Three of us who volunteered to help that day were assigned a group of second graders. They read their poems to us, we read poems to them, and then we all worked to create a poem. After 45 minutes, I was exhausted. I don’t know how Linda does it.

This week, she is transplanting about 200 tomato plants — in our living room — for her students to grow and sell to raise money for the local food bank. That’s a pretty good lesson right there for the kids, don’t you think?

The newspaper the morning of my speech reported the new grades issued to schools. Mount Vernon Elementary got a grade of C. There was no extra credit awarded for those tomato plants.

I told those retired teachers that instead of grading schools, we should be grading parents. Judging from the applause, I think they agreed. I also told them that teachers work for low wages and little appreciation except from the children, who remember and love them all the rest of their lives. And yes, who give them an A+.

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at

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