Editor’s note:  My friend Wendy Lang is a former teacher who lives in Decatur.  She works for the Alabama Education Association as a uniserv district director and is a weekly columnist for the Decatur Daily.  Here are some reflections from her.

Educators often have a thankless job.  With rising healthcare premiums, lack of adequate compensation, legislation upon more legislation heaped on by those who know nothing of how a classroom really works, unending classroom mandates, tests upon tests and even worse, the make it or break it test scores, the occupation is not seen as the profession it once was.  Ask anyone in education (or those that got out of education, for that matter) and they will tell you two things; first, it’s not a job, it’s a calling and primarily, they just want to teach.  The mounds of paperwork and meetings and lack of appreciation have taken their toll.  But for those who doubt that the light at the end of the tunnel exists, I know for a fact that it does.

Today I attended the Martin Luther King, Jr. Unity Breakfast at Ingall’s Harbor pavilion in Decatur.  This annual event sponsored by the Decatur-Morgan County Minority Development Association was full to capacity for this, their 25th year. In all honesty, the last thing I wanted to do was get up at the crack of dawn on my off day, but I did and I came home with much more than I could ever have imagined.

Years ago, I fell back into a teaching career because I had two children to raise and a degree that was collecting dust.  It was a perfect fit, or so I thought, until I was placed in fifth grade.  It was a daunting task at best and try as I might, between the testing and the paperwork and the crowd control, I never knew if anyone was really “getting it.”  The math was above my head and enticing preteens to read was a struggle.  But I never stopped trying.  Neither did Stacey Staten.

Stacey lived for recess.  He could shoot basketball and run off the immense amount of energy he had for ten minutes every day.  His mother, Latrise Jackson, made sure that he got his homework and passed the tests; but I never really knew if he “got” it.  Fifth grade is a difficult age and grade for parents, students and teachers.  Even if they do the work, do they understand the importance of what they are doing?  Do they know that in the course of life that it counts for something?  Does the eye rolling over assignments ever stop?

Today I walked in the pavilion looking for coffee.  Instead, I saw Stacey and his mother.  We hugged and loved on each other and I was thrilled to see him there.  I asked him about his future plans, and he grinned, dropped his head and stated as a matter of fact that he still just wanted to play ball.  I was not surprised.  After all, he is a star player at Decatur High School and his coach, Sam Brown, has referred to him as a “lockdown defender.”  Last week, he led his team to defeat Austin High School in the city rivalry by scoring 16 points.  This also won him the title of the Decatur Daily’s Player of the Week.  He’s not just good; he’s amazing.

The DMDA began 25 years ago to promote education as the primary means for minority development.  That first year, they awarded one $500 scholarship.  Today, they awarded over $31,000 in scholarship monies to deserving disadvantaged students for their education.  It is estimated that by the spring, approximately $50,000 in scholarship monies will be provided to area students in a joint, unified effort between the Association and community partners.

As students approached the stage, Stacey took his place in line to receive one of more than 50 scholarships given..  That’s when I knew….he might want to play ball, but he gets it; he gets every single bit of it.  He knows what opens doors and ball courts; an education.  And somehow, someway, he got the math, too.  And I saw the light at the end of the tunnel.