The To-Do List

If you saw my “to do” list it would make your toes curl. From “replacing the front porch” to “reclaiming the back yard” plus a thousand other little things to do on our 1915 house. Three years ago I was stepping into my role as Teacher of the Year. It was like stepping out my front door into a tornado and life has never been the same. That role created a “to do” list that is still beyond comprehension and is one of those things that will never be completed. As one thing disappears of the top of the list, two, or three or ten things have already appeared at the bottom of the list.

Imagine, if you will, you are a respected voice for a group you care about. For me there are three groups–people with special needs have me as their champion, lgbtq kids have me fighting in their corner and every day I represent teachers. When you have been given the honors I have it means your voice will be heard if you speak up. Those voices of the kids I teach and the kids I represent will be heard. It is hard to rest when your actions and words can make a difference.

That’s where my life has taken me. During the Fall I wrote three essays for national publication (I still can’t use “blog”…in my day an essay was an essay). For Microsoft Education I wrote a piece about access and opening doors for people with autism. For the Oregon Education Association Magazine I wrote about meeting Dr. Stephen Hawking and how he had a message for my students who use wheelchairs and speaking devices. I completed an essay for a book about supporting lgbtq youth, wrote a guest editorial for the Oregonian and the Bad Ass Teachers Association published my keynote speech from the Oregon Safe Schools Awards. The Huffington Post and the Tyler Clemente Foundation are still waiting for me to get their essays finished.

On top of this I have my own blog, my own twitter and Facebook, a business selling curriculum on Teacherspayteachers and a social networking platform that many professional PR people would kill for. I am finishing my 46th Ability Guidebook for people with autism. This one is for Croatia and adds an 11th country to my project. I have pictures for over 30 more books ready as soon as I have the time.

During the fall I also gave tv and radio interviews, wrote and gave three keynote speeches, sat on two education panels and was elected President of the Oregon State Network of State Teachers of the Year, named Chairman of NNSTOY’s Membership Committee and Chairman of the Day on the Hill Committee for their national conference, am Co-Chair of the ECET2OR conference here in Eugene and I serve on the board of two non profit organizations (Oregon Safe Schools and Clubfunder).

That was my fall. This is what I did in my free time. This is what I did while I wasn’t at work. My list for spring is…. daunting, to say the least.

But I bring this all up for a reason. This is not a “look what I did” post. You don’t have to look far to see what I’ve done lately. What it is is an example. Though I occasionally get a stipend, for everything I shared above that stipend totaled $125. That doesn’t even pay for ink cartridges I used printing materials for all the above events or the gas to get there. I’m doing this because it is bettering the lives of the kids in my classroom and, because of my interesting place in life, is bettering the lives of kids I’ve never met in places I have never been.

I do it because I am a teacher. And like all the other teachers you know, every single minute of our day is spoken for. There is never enough time to get everything done we want. Imagine being a 2nd grade teacher–how long does it take to cut out the pieces for 32 kids to do an art project? Just go cut out 64 eyes and see how long that takes. (and cut out a few extra because some will be lost or glued to the back on accident). Imagine the middle or high school teacher with 180 students and 180 papers to grade. If every paper got a single minute that is three hours. 2 minutes = 6 hours. 3 = 9. 4 = 12…

I hope you see where I am going with all of this… If you are a parent, the next time you see your kid’s paper with a bunch of red marks on it, know that that teacher probably stayed up late, skipped their favorite tv shows or reading a book, and instead tried to give your child 4 minutes, or 5 minutes or ten minutes of their time.

If you are a family member of a teacher, the next time you see them sitting with their never-ending pile of papers to read, bring them a cup of coffee or a tea and let them know you see their sacrifice.

And the next time you hear the media or a politician putting down the teachers, don’t accept it. Stand up for your teachers. Stand up for your schools. Appreciate what a good teacher gives to society and give them the job respect they deserve.

Only a few teachers are singled out and rewarded for this hard job. I have been blessed. But make sure the teachers in your life know they are appreciated!

Brett Bigham is the 2014 Oregon State Teacher of the Year and received one of the 2015 NEA National Award for Teaching Excellence, was named an NEA Foundation Global Fellow and was given the NEA LGBT Caucus National Teacher Role Model Award.  He is currently working with Microsoft Sway to create Ability Guidebooks for people with autism all over the world.  He teaches special education at George Middle School in Portland, Oregon.