An Important Daddying Perspective for a New School Year
By Allan Shedlin
Grampsy and Founder, DADvocacy Consulting Group
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This blog is in honor of the special teachers in my life, who I seized the opportunity to thank: Joe Papaleo, Meyer Rabban, Judi Cohen, Nancy Mehos, Wendy Lawrence, and Jonathan Kistler. And it is dedicated to my daughter, Raya, and to my granddaughter, Jesse. Thank you from the bottom of my heart; I am forever grateful.
As it has for most of my life, the beginning of school has always felt like the start of the new
year. Having begun school at age 3, continued through graduate school, and later becoming a teacher, then a school principal, and then the executive director of a national elementary
school center, it’s no wonder that the end of summer has always felt like the beginning of a
This has been amplified by the opportunities I’ve had to write widely in the professional and popular press while consulting on education at the local, state, and national levels. And perhaps most important, as the dad of three and now the granddad of five, as they began their “new year,” I’ve recognized the importance of this time of year as an opportunity for a fresh start.
I’ve been gratified that one of my children became a teacher. And now, as one of my
granddaughters begins her career as a teacher, I have an additional perspective – one that is has been enhanced by more years of reflection; a climate for students, teachers, and families that is so very different than the one in which I went to school; and by in-depth discussions with my granddaughter on the eve of her teaching debut.
My long professional career has provided far more gratification than heartache. Most of the
gratification has come from the observed differences in the children’s lives I’ve had the
opportunity to touch and from the respect I’ve felt for colleagues with whom I’ve had the privilege to work, from the collegiate up to the nursery school level.
Yes, I mean “up to” the nursery school level. Because I believe there has always been the misconception that the higher you climb on the education ladder, the more important it becomes. When, in fact, it’s the earliest school years that are the most important. Those are the years where habits are set, foundations are laid, and where the innate desperation to learn must be nourished. This is as fundamental as it seems unacknowledged and unrecognized by the general public.
In case I had any doubts, I tested this hypothesis in a series of informal experiments during a summer when I served as both an elementary school principal and a college professor. I was able to observe the dramatic difference in respect I received when I introduced myself as a college professor versus an elementary school principal.
But I digress from the main point of this blog post – namely to urge dads, moms, and all students to let teachers know they are truly appreciated and valued. Lord knows, with so many parents being forced to “teach” their children during the pandemic, there is first-hand experience with the challenges involved.
Teachers are being called upon to provide a safe haven in a society that often feels unsafe...and where safe havens are increasingly difficult to find.
And now, as my granddaughter has reminded me, the pressures and expectations have increased exponentially during this truly unprecedented time of school shootings, fluctuating COVID protocols, teacher shortages, and pressures to make up for “lost learning.” And all this in the midst of civil unrest, polarization around every corner, books being banned, and key historical facts being removed from curriculum, all being magnified by a time when our world feels “on the brink.” Teachers are being called upon to provide a safe haven in a society that often feels unsafe...and where safe havens are increasingly difficult to find.
So, as we begin this new year, please let our teachers know how truly and critically important
their work is and how much you appreciate them. And if you no longer have access to teachers directly because your children are no longer in school, locate those teachers who touched your life and let them know they did. Hey, why not do so, even if your kids are still in school? This is great use of social media. I know, because I’ve been on the receiving end, and it feels very good indeed.
Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, and five grandchildren, as well as numerous "bonus" sons/daughters and grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, school leadership, parenting coaching, policy development, and advising at the local, state, and national levels. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019, he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He has conducted daddying workshops in such diverse settings as Native American pueblos, veterans groups, nursery schools, penitentiaries, Head Start centers, corporate boardrooms, and various elementary schools, signifying the widespread interest in men in becoming the best possible dad. In 2022, Allan founded and co-directed the inaugural Daddying Film Festival to enable students, dads, and other indie filmmakers to use film as a vehicle to communicate the importance of fathers or father figures in each others' lives. Allan earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D and GRAND D-A-D the most important “degrees” of all.