Today is “National Teacher Day” and a former Iowa educator who now leads the National Education Association says it’s an important day to recognize teachers. Dennis Van Roekel says he hopes everyone will take the time to acknowledge teachers. “For their commitment to students and what they do each and every day,” Van Roekel says. He says there are a lot of ways to say thanks, from a tweet at the hashtag “ThankATeacher” or instagram, a phone call or letter. “Just reach out to someone who made a difference in your life.”
Van Roekel grew up in Manson and went on to teach for 23 years in Muscatine. Iowa has been in the process of revitalizing its education system, something Van Roekel says this also happening in other states. He says it is an important process. “I think the conversation is good as long as we include and engage all of the interested parties. Sometimes they leave out the very educators that do it on a day-to-day basis. We can’t have that,” Van Roekel says. “We need to involve parents and community, it’s a conversation that every community ought to have.”
There sometimes is a difference in opinion between what teachers believe needs to happen and what parents think should happen in education. Van Roekel says the key is to realizing that the methods used in the 20th Century can’t be used in the 21st Century. “And what we need to say is — in this day and in the 10 and 15 years looking forward — what is the purpose of public education in America? And ask people that question and listen to their answers,” Van Roekel says.
He says both sides can do a better job of listening and working together. “There’s a lot of talking at each other, but not enough talking with each other, and that’s what we have to change. It’s a busy world, but we’ve got to find a solution to that challenge,” according to Van Roekel.
Van Roekel says schools and teachers are still dealing with tough budget issues. Another issue is the use of technology in schools. Van Roekl says teachers and everyone else should take advantage of the fact that kids today often know more about technology than adults, and we should ask the kids questions about how they use it. “That is an empowering thing when an adult asks a young person to help them understand and learn. And even if you don’t use it afterwards, ask them that question,” Roekel says. He says you can still ask them even if you know how something works, because it empowers the kids to help you and it’s a great way to work with them.