Weatherford Democrat

Columns

August 15, 2011

Blame it on the Joneses

WEATHERFORD — Until triteness wore it down to a nub, the expression “keeping up with the Joneses” was a guaranteed grin-getter, or at least a “been there/done that” nod of the head.

Then, some wiseacre suggests that when he thinks he’s finally caught up, the Joneses re-finance.

Think that one through. Molly’s “Taint funny, McGee” response to her hubby’s pratfalls on the long-ago radio show fits our current wobbly world to a “T.”

At the risk of “broad-brushing,” this describes our culture, top to bottom. We’re “maxed out.” The futility of excesses is documented at every hand, and numerous individuals — perhaps millions — are in “calf-rope” contortions. The light has dawned that governmental approval of debt ceilings — and individuals’ use of new credit cards to pay off old ones — are not sustainable practices. Nor are many others, financial or otherwise.

Yes, there are knocks at many doors.

It’s the piper. He insists on being paid.

It is in this context that teachers, millions of them, return to classrooms. They, like most of the masses, must do more with less. We depend on them to be miracle workers, taking students from where they are to where they need to be. They must teach much that should be done at home.

Generally, they keep trying, dealing as best they can with laundry lists of new problems undreamed of a generation ago..

The thanks they deserve may never be expressed. We are, perhaps to a person, too much in a hurry. Handshakes, back pats, emails and notes mean much to folks we claim to be most important to our nation’s future.

How I wish that we could somehow “bottle” educators’ “acts of kindness” that go unheralded, perhaps not even mentioned.

Tributes sometimes paid at memorial services are worthy of sharing. (When referencing “educators,” I include all “team members” who participate in students’ transformation from “I’m not worth much” to “I can make a difference.”)

A teacher’s aide — let’s call her “Mrs. Bonnie,” as her students did — died a few months ago at age 50-something. She was 100 percent committed to the elementary school youngsters she served.

Two students’ mother reflected on her regimen of “high fives” for all youngsters as they arrived each day. The mom asked her fifth grade daughter, as she “graduated” to the sixth grade campus, what she’d miss most at the elementary school. Her response: “‘High fives’ from Mrs. Bonnie.”

One day, the parent shared this account with Mrs. Bonnie. The aide then traced her handprint on a piece of foam paper and mailed it to the little girl’s home. “Now, you can still get a ‘high five’ from me every morning,” Mrs. Bonnie explained in a note. The youngster proudly attached the hand outline to a wall in her bedroom. When Mrs. Bonnie died, the little girl’s younger brother lamented that he’d miss the “high fiving” as well. “You can share the one on my wall,” she told her sibling.

A few weeks before her death, Mrs. Bonnie bought an MP3 player for the students. She wanted them to have “cool music” on days the music teacher wasn’t at school.

She constantly bought book fair items for students who couldn’t afford them, bought T-shirts for others who didn’t have the cash, ad infinitum.

All of this on an aide’s salary.

My friend, Dr. Doyle Rogers, keeps a “letter to the editor” tucked away. It appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1983, a tribute to his sister, Charlotte Walters, who, after a seven-year bout with cancer, died at age 49. She taught first grade in Fort Worth schools for 23 years.

Written by Frank and Carol Hames of Fort Worth, the letter credited Mrs. Walters for providing “a foundation and inspiration” to be retained throughout the lives of their two daughters.

Thoughtful and tenderly worded, the letter lauded the educator in what today would likely be considered too lengthy for inclusion in major newspapers. But, the couple had much to say.

She was described as being “enthusiastic, creative, patient, and above all, a true professional.” The Hames’ “saddest part of all” was expressed for the “wee folk” who will never have the chance to meet the best friend a first grader could ever have.

The Hames’ letter is the “highest of fives.”

Be on the lookout in the new school year for those in your midst who are called to teach. And thank them.

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Metroplex. Send inquiries/comments to: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.

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