WHIDBEY RECIPES: Teachers help shape the people we become

If I were to ask you what you consider to be the most important job in the country, what would you answer?

President? CEO of any of our huge major industries? Secretary of State, or Treasury? The general in charge of our everlasting war in Iraq?

An argument can be made for any of those I’ve mentioned, as well as others I’m sure you would add. But, if I were asked the question, there is one job I’d add and it would be right up there with any of the above. I’ve given it a lot of thought over the years and, in my personal estimation, there are very few jobs as important or as challenging as teaching.

Think about it. Today or tomorrow, classrooms all over the country will fill with kids, some eager to begin another school year, others not.

But these “kids” are, one day not so far away, going to be taking over all the jobs we mentioned above as well as thousands of others. They will be making decisions, large and small, that will affect not only their lives, but ours. It sounds trite, but it’s nevertheless true; they are the future.

And whose job is it to help them learn how to deal with that future as intelligent, responsible human beings? First, of course, it’s their parents’ task, but once they start school, who is it that spends approximately six hours every day for 180 days dealing with our kids? Their teachers.

Each and every year, 20 or more young people, each one very different from the other, are given into the care of one or more teachers, who then have only 180 days to pass on to them a certain amount of knowledge; information and skills they will need in order to proceed into that future as well-prepared citizens. With luck, they’ll all be successful and reach the perceived goals of learning set for that year, but teachers know there can also be failures and disappointments.

We’ve all experienced teachers who made a difference in our school lives, who influenced us in ways that were not necessarily related to the subject matter we were trying to absorb.

I would bet that every adult you ask today could quickly tell you of at least one outstanding teacher they had who made a real difference, and, unfortunately, equally as quickly tell you about the worst teacher they ever had. Just as each kid is different, so, too, is every teacher.

For some teachers, the job is their passion and they worry about and care about their students almost as much as their own children.

For others, it’s just a job to get done with as little extra effort as possible; and, once in awhile, to everyone’s detriment, there is a teacher who shouldn’t be there at all.

The years between 5 and 18 shape our adult attitudes, our ideas of who we are and what we should be about in the decades to come. During those years from K through 12, the adults in our lives are not just teachers, they often become role models and, for some students, a teacher may be the influence that keeps them from making bad, life-spoiling decisions.

Teaching is a job with huge responsibilities, and every year, those responsibilities are renewed with the incoming crop of kids. And, every year, there is more to teach, more to learn and more distractions to battle for the time and attention of the students.

It is a daunting task and I often wonder how we keep dedicated people at it. It’s certainly not the money; you’re never going to be in the big bucks through teaching. Glory? Hardly; other than a Golden Apple or some other teacher award, fleeting at best, there’s little glory for teachers.

I say again, teaching is one of the most underrated but important jobs in the lineup of important professions, yet we take it so much for granted and give it so little credit. In my book of debits and credits, one strong, well-educated, dedicated, sensitive teacher is worth at least a half dozen politicians or VIP business people any day of the week.

And then, if we threw even a third of the money we’re throwing into Iraq into shoring up our educational system, can you imagine where our teachers and their “kids” might go?

Good luck to all of you, teachers and students alike, as you begin this bright new school year, full of hope and good intentions. It’s a very tough job, being a student who has so much to learn in today’s world, but the real kudos go to those who take on one of the most important jobs of all, teaching.

RECIPES

I remember what it was like to spend all day at school teaching, then to arrive home and be greeted by three hungry dogs, one hungry cat and two starving kids, with a hungry husband soon to return. Casseroles and soups, dishes I could make in an evening that would carry over with enough for at least one more night were my life-savers. And I loved my crockpot for those days when I needed to throw something together in the morning, let it cook slowly all day and have dinner ready with little more trouble.

It can’t get much easier than this one, but serve it with steamed broccoli and/or a tossed green salad or a slaw, just to be sure you get your vegetable servings in there somewhere.

BEEF CASSEROLE IN THE CROCK POT

2 lbs. stew beef, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 envelope onion soup mix

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 can (4 oz.) whole mushrooms (or use fresh small button mushrooms if you have them available and ready)

½ cup red wine

Combine all ingredients in the crock pot; stir to combine well. Cover and cook on low for 8-12 hrs. Serve over noodles or rice.

I made this Italian soup on many a chilly school night; it can be ready in under an hour and if you double it, you’ll have enough for a couple of nights. Serve with a tossed salad and warm Italian bread.

ITALIAN VEGETABLE SOUP

3 T. olive oil

1 cup chopped cabbage

1 onion, chopped

1-2 celery stalks, chopped

2-3 large garlic cloves, minced (or to taste)

1½ t. Italian seasoning

1½ t. dried basil, crumbled

(I use minced fresh, if I have it)

3 cups vegetable broth (or half vegetable stock and half water)

1½ cups tomato juice

1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen mixed vegetables

1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen chopped spinach (or collard greens, or chard, or use chopped fresh spinach if you have it handy and washed)

1 can (15 oz.) cannellini beans, drained

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan over med. heat. Add cabbage, onion, celery, garlic, Italian seasoning and basil. Saute until vegetables are tender. Add vegetable broth and tomato juice; simmer for ½ hr. Stir in the vegetables and beans. Cook until all vegetables are tender, about 10 min. more, season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Note: I have grated Parmesan handy to sprinkle on top for those who want it; kids often don’t. Also, I sometimes throw in any other frozen vegetables I have on hand, such as peas or corn or lima beans.

Back when, I also occasionally cut a few hot dogs into inch or so slices and threw them in the soup, because my kids liked anything with hot dogs in it. My son began making this soup when he was out on his own and he often browned and threw in some chunks of Italian sausage.

Margaret Walton can be reached at falwalcal@msn.com.