An appreciation of teachers

An appreciation of teachers

The man at the center of this week’s cover story gives us a lot to think about.

Evan Robbins is a visionary. He works preternaturally hard. He is inspirational. And by all accounts, and for real, he’s a nice man.

He might well have seemed more or less like anyone else until he read the New York Times story about child trafficking that galvanized him into action, and he’s still acting on it, actively doing good in the world, genuinely performing acts of tikkun olam.

When he talks about it, he’s straightforward. He’s appropriately modest — not so self-effacing that he pretends not to do active good, because that would get in the way of doing more good, but he’s low-key about it.

One of the most fascinating things in his story is how the work that he does is twofold. He helps trafficked children in Ghana reclaim their lives. And he helps his students in New Jersey not only understand the abstractions that are good and evil, the monstrosity that is enslaved children and the mitzvah of helping them out of that life, but he also teaches them the practicalities of leadership.

Many of Mr. Robbins’s students might have become leaders anyway. Maybe that’s what drew some of them to his work. But his club is huge. It attracts about 10 percent of the students at Metuchen High School. Is it possible that 10 percent of a group could be natural leaders? Or is it that he is so inspiring that his example draws leadership out of students who otherwise would be content as followers?

So his work helps both trafficked children in Ghana and high-school students in New Jersey, in very different but complementary ways. It’s a fascinating accomplishment.

Mr. Robbins is an obvious hero, but thinking about him also led me to think about the other heroes in our community.

Some of them are people who work hard every day for inclusion — the leaders of the Sinai School and Yachad, for example.

But others of them are teachers. Just plain teachers. We are living in a time when it is remarkably hard to be a teacher; to show up in school every day, masked in front of masked students (and often functioning as the mask police, as task for which few teachers are suited, and even fewer enjoy). Frustration is high, tempers are hot, obvious educational breakthroughs and connections and the joy of seeing an idea catch fire in a student’s mind is fleeting, according to many teachers.

As we read in daily newspapers and online, more and more teachers are thinking of quitting.

And then there are nurses, doctors, and other healthcare workers, who live with stresses that those of us happily working from home cannot imagine with any accuracy. At the beginning of the pandemic, we thanked them profusely, but that was two years ago (and feels like it’s much longer. It feels like it’s decades ago. Centuries. Millennia…).

It’s time to thank them again.

Thank you, teachers and nurses and doctors and healthcare workers. Thank you to everyone who has to deal with shortened tempers and longer hours. Thank you.