I feel compelled to respond to the recent article in this newspaper entitled, “Governor derides teachers at Cianbro facility event” (Aug. 18). It is so filled with misinformation and ridiculous statements, that I must momentarily leave my well-deserved retirement and set the record straight.

Having taught in the Augusta school system for 41 years, I feel that I represent teachers well, and can address this gross injustice. I speak for all teachers; unfortunately, they are too busy with today’s myriad educational challenges to take time to respond. It’s time for LePage (and the public in some cases) to know that teachers are not “a dime a dozen,” as the governor said. Their responsibilities include far more than “open[ing] a textbook” and preaching to their students.

In the article LePage touts Cianbro for introducing a training program that uses mentors to teach new employees the skills needed for their trade. He is quoted saying, “It’s mentoring that’s more valuable,” and that all educators do is “just teach out of a book.”

The governor recalls writing a note to superintendents that stated, “Folks, we can do better and need to do better. After all, we must put our students first.”

Who is he kidding? Does he really feel that teachers don’t know this?

Teachers are mentors of the finest kind. We teach students, not just subject matter. We become an integral part of their lives and help them make sound decisions. We lift them up when they’re down, and celebrate their successes. There is little doubt in my mind that teachers play life-changing roles in their students’ lives. Behind their family, we spend more time with them than anyone.

And it’s not easy.

In fact I am in the process of writing a book that touts the teaching profession. With all that’s going on in today’s educational world, teachers are losing sight of the impact they make on a kid’s life. Their role is irreplaceable, and they must never lose sight of this, because we need good teachers. Society is getting so complex that teaching is more challenging than ever.

We just have to look beyond the external pressures like standardized testing, new laws and requirements, and also the likes of Paul LePage. Teaching is all about creating relationships with youngsters and helping them figure out the mysteries of life, and teaching them our subject while we’re doing this.

LePage did have one fact correct — we don’t get paid as much as our plumbers, carpenters and electricians. The payback comes in a form other than money, something he will never understand.

It comes in the form of meaningful relationships, which are the result of mentoring our students and providing successful role models, in addition to an important education — which by the way prepares them for their vocational education.

I have had the privilege of mentoring more than 6,000 students in my career, and my reward was never monetary. My reward was their smile when they found success. My reward was their thank-yous for helping them succeed. My reward was watching them receive their diploma, turn to the crowd, and smile with pride and accomplishment.

My reward was the knowledge I made a positive impact on their lives and played an integral role in their success and happiness.

Almost daily I encounter a former student who thanks me for helping them when they were younger and trying to figure things out. Yes, I taught them how to write more effectively and read for meaning, but I mentored them in something far more important.

It’s called life.

Thomas D. Wells recently retired after 41 years teaching English, each and every hour spent in the Augusta school system. He is writing a book that discusses the meaningful contributions teachers make to their students’ lives.


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