Since 1984, the National PTA has designated the first week in May as National Teacher Appreciation Week. The National Education Association has likewise designated the first Tuesday in May as National Teacher Day. It's hard not to get all political and cynical about a day and a week set aside to "honor" arguably the nation’s most embattled profession. The figure has held pretty constant for over a decade: some 40–50% of this year's batch of first-year teachers will leave the profession within the next five years.

And let's face it; we all know why. (Well, we can surmise at least some of the reasons...)

Politics aside, however, there have, thankfully, always been people who genuinely understand and appreciate what it means to be a teacher—both the agony and the ecstasy of touching the future.

Comedian and comedy writer Donald Quinn—most famous for the popular and enduring radio comedy Fibber McGee and Molly, is often quoted:

"If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn’t want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher's job."

Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to sit on the United States Supreme Court, put himself on record:

"None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody—a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns—bent down and helped us pick up our boots."

Even our popular culture occasionally rises to the occasion. Who doesn’t appreciate the anonymous writer who penned this bumper sticker: "If you can read this, thank a teacher," and this tee shirt: "Those who can, teach; those who can't, pass laws about teaching"?

While rarely celebrated as such, teachers are the true guardians of Truth, Justice, and the American Way (sorry, but remember when I said it was hard not to get cynical?). The founders of our nation, the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, our nation's first presidents and vice presidents saw education as the only means by which the principles on which the United States was founded could thrive. They not only believed in the need for an educated populace, they wrote about it—a lot:

"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." ― Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Charles Jarvis, 1820.

See what he's saying there? Education is the true remedy for abuses of power. Even under the Articles of Confederation, Jefferson encouraged his fellow Virginians to provide for public education in order to preserve the rights of the people against the abuses of government:

"An amendment to our [the Commonwealth of Virginia's, not the United States'] constitution must here come in aid of the public education. The influence over government must be shared among all people." — Notes on Virginia, 1782.

And, of course there's Jefferson's other gem that everyone quotes but no one provides a source for:

"An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight. It is therefore imperative that the nation see to it that a suitable education be provided for all its citizens."

Jefferson wasn't the only early supporter of free public education. James Madison (the Father of the Constitution) wrote:

"Whenever a youth is ascertained to possess talents meriting an education which his parents cannot afford, he should be carried forward at the public expense." — letter to W.T. Barry, 1822.

In the same letter, Madison wrote:

"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."

For Madison, public education was not only a good idea and a necessary means to preserve liberty, it was the second-best service a government could render its people:

"The best service that can be rendered to a Country, next to that of giving it liberty, is in diffusing the mental improvement equally essential to the preservation, and the enjoyment of the blessing." — Letter to Littleton Dennis Teackle, 1826.

John Adams, too, penned his view on the importance of public education for the good of the nation:

"Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people."

Take heart, then, fellow teachers! Even though it may seem at times as if you're besieged from every side, know that your efforts do not go unnoticed and that from the very founding of our nation your work has been sanctified. As Henry Adams, grandson of John Quincy Adams and great-grandson of John Adams, said:

"A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."

He's talking about you. Keep up the good work.