Millions of children are back in school and the school year has officially begun. There are so many teachers in New York City and throughout the country who have spent time and money getting their classrooms ready for the young, inquisitive minds they will have for the next nine months. We cannot thank our Pre-K through high school teachers enough for their dedication and energy to ensure the youth of our nation have a solid foundation as they move through life.
Last week I attended the homegoing service of Anne J Applewhite Walker, a beloved teacher from PS 189 in Brooklyn. Her son Dr. Sheldon Applewhite is a friend and colleague and I wanted to support him during his trying hour. What I was not prepared for was the outpouring of love, respect and gratitude from past students from across the city. Mrs. Applewhite, as she was known, was a middle school teacher, and students who graduated in the early 2000s showed up to pay their respects. The consistent theme from all of her former students was, “Mrs. Applewhite was tough but she really cared about us.” There were students who had gone on to successfully graduate high school and college, a feat many of them stated would not have been possible without the foundation from Mrs. Applewhite. I was inspired throughout the day hearing stories of how one teacher changed the lives of countless students, parents and communities.
It goes without saying that our nation’s teachers are not properly compensated for the work they do. Teachers should not have to rely on organizations such as DonorsChoose.org for classroom supplies and enrichment items, even though I am so glad this amazing organization exists.
During Dr. Applewhite’s eulogy, he spoke of how his mother sat at the kitchen table planning lessons and field trips. In that moment I saw hundreds of teachers doing the same across the city, preparing a school year that will possibly change a child’s life forever.
Although I never met Mrs. Applewhite, I reflected on all of the amazing teachers I have had, those who pulled me aside to tell me I had a special gift or complimented me on a character trait. I will never forget the foundation that was laid for me by so many teachers who saw something in me and cultivated a thirst for learning.
It is my hope that each student has a Mrs. Applewhite in their lives, someone they think of as tough and caring. So many teachers pour so much of their energy into their students and sacrifice so much to make sure young minds are prepared for the world. So, thank you to all of the teachers who wake up in the early hours of the morning to change the course of history for the better.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream” and the co-host of the new podcast FAQ-NYC.