If you can read this bumper sticker, thank a teacher. If you find something to read, thank a librarian.
Sometimes truth comes on the back of the pick-up truck in front of you at a red light. Sometimes it comes in the words and actions of a middle school teacher who defies convention.
When Dr. Dennis Wechter arrived in Broward County as a “Media Specialist,” he was one of very few males in that position. Even when he served as president of the Broward County Association for Media Specialists, he would often be the only male in the room.
Spend even a couple minutes with Dennis and you immediately realize that he is not uncomfortable with challenging your preconceived ideas about what role public middle school librarians “should” play. “I have a great love for reading books, but I also understand the level of technology that our kids are using every day. I have to know what they know to stay up with them so I have a book in one hand and a Kindle in the other. It’s amazing to see how much they know and to be able to instill a love of reading in them,” states Wechter.
After four years at FAU producing educational programming, ten years teaching at Blanche Ely High School, and six years at Crystal Lake Middle, where he is currently serving, Dennis is still impassioned by the potential in his work. “Our public middle schools are the trenches, but I firmly believe in the work place and in the difference that I can make. Like any other position, it’s based on our walk–our words and actions. With the opportunity to work in public education also comes an opportunity to express my witness,” he adds.
Dennis is undeterred by questions about the battle between church and state, stating, “If you have the walk and the dedication to that one thing and are able to stay true to it, many will want to know how you do it. Teachers are increasingly confused about their roles, which makes it important for Christians to stay grounded. When I step out of the door each morning, I can make a difference.”
With the FCAT, teachers’ layoffs, and reduced school board budgets filling the headlines in recent months, rather than crumble under the increasing frustration and stress, Dennis serves as an anchor of peace in the midst of turmoil. “There is a growing conflict between management and labor, which for us translates to the administration and the teachers,” says Wechter. “In the midst of this, believers are able to be a support mechanism as more and more teachers suffer the effects of the increased stress. We are able to serve as anchors and to remind both brand-new teachers as well as those who have become jaded after decades of teaching why they became teachers in the first place.”
Dennis is quick to emphasize the role of Christian parents in making the public school educational process beneficial for their children. “If you are a Christian parent with children in the public school system, you need to pray and you need to get involved every step of the way in your child’s education. Believe me, the administration will not think that you are ‘butting in’ as they recognize that the benefits of parent involvement far outweigh most parents’ fears that their interest will be unwelcome. Major studies have conclusively shown that children of involved parents do better academically and socially. It sends a message to your kids that you are interested and willing to be involved.”
There was a time when a teenaged Dennis was on the other side of the desk; a guidance counselor warned his parents not to waste their time sending Dennis to college, but to instead encourage him to enter the military or job market because “there was no way he would succeed in higher education.” “After earning a bachelors degree, two masters degrees, a specialist degree, and a doctorate degree, sometimes I think of that guidance counselor and I wonder about what would have happened if my parents hadn’t told me that they believed in my ability to accomplish anything I wanted to,” shares Wechter.
Talking to Dennis today, all these years later, you have the feeling that the years haven’t diminished his passion to be a positive influence on his students, their parents, and his co-workers. “Every child has the capacity to do well. You just need to find the trigger to turn on their desire to succeed. Everyone needs someone standing in the gap for them. I know that any parent would keep their child out of danger if they knew it existed. You only go through K-12 once and there’s no going back. Whether you are a teacher or parent, the old adage is true. ‘They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’ Parents don’t need to have advanced degrees; they just need to show up so that their children and teachers know they care.”