I would be remiss if I were to finish this week without acknowledging the many teachers who devote their time and talents each day to educating the adults of the future. Teachers have impacted my life from the time in first grade when Sister Camilla saw that I was a frightened and confused child. She took me under her wing and taught me how to read with love and genuine concern for my well being. Along the way I had a host of wonderful people who nurtured me and developed my interests. Mrs. Powers, Mrs. Loisey, Mrs. Colby, Mrs. Getz, Sister Wanda, Father Shane, Father Bernard, Mr. Maroney and Father Hilarion were among those who created a love for learning in me and left a lasting impression on my soul. I remember their lessons and the joy that I felt in their classes. So much of the person that I am today was carefully molded with their care.
As a mother I worried about the schooling of my own children. There were wonderful souls who shepherded them just as I had been. I needn’t have had any anxieties because my girls were given an excellent knowledge base from which they ultimately built their careers. As a family we all loved Mr. Beeson, Mr. Montgomery, Mrs. Wilson, Dr. Warner, Mrs. Pirtle, Mrs. Weston, Mrs. Stringer and Mrs. Thompson. I watched my girls bloom and grow at Jessup Elementary, South Houston Intermediate and South Houston High School. Their teachers were dedicated to making them strong writers, curious scientists and competent mathematicians. I rarely had anything but deep respect for each and every one of the educators who helped them to grow and mature.
Eventually I too became a teacher, spending the bulk of my adult life working with pre-schoolers, fourth graders, middle schoolers, and finally high school students. I loved every single minute of that experience and carry fond memories of my kids and their willingness to put up with me even on days when I had somehow lost my groove. It was hard work, but always rewarding. I made far less money than I might have in another occupation but it is doubtful that I would ever have felt as important to the grand scheme of the universe doing anything else. I always felt humbled and grateful to be allowed to work in perhaps the most influential profession that there is. For most of my teaching time I was a rather isolated soul. My days were spent inside a classroom over which I had domain. Both successes and failures were all on me. Sometimes it was a lonely existence. I often beat myself up, thinking that I could have or should have done better. I imagined that my colleagues were immune from the doubts that so haunted me. I sometimes became discouraged. When it became the vogue to create teams of teachers who met regularly I finally realized that most of the frustrations that I had experienced were shared by the others as well. We helped one another and in the process everyone was all the better.
Eventually I became a Peer Facilitator and then a Dean of Faculty. I missed the students but I greatly enjoyed watching the teachers as they worked to instill knowledge, skills, and thinking capabilities in their charges. I had never realized how many remarkable things were happening inside all those classrooms. I was supposed to be helping the educators but I found that every single time that I witnessed a lesson it was I who walked away with new ideas and information. I realized firsthand the extent to which teachers literally put their hearts, their souls and their passion into what they do. They worried incessantly about the extent to which they were making a positive difference with their pupils. They hungered to improve and to reach closer and closer approximations of perfection.
If all citizens were to witness the level of dedication that I saw they would end their negative critiques of schools. They would understand just how much the teachers care. It was rare for me to see someone who was lazy or who only worked for a pay check. That certainly happened here and there but for the most part teaching literally consumed the lives of the people with whom I worked. Not even the summer brought them total freedom from thinking about their jobs. Most of them enrolled in classes, taught children in need of remediation or created ever more exciting lessons for the next school year. Even on vacations they were constantly searching for new resources and ideas.
If you’ve ever been in a social setting with teachers you will have realized the intensity with which their students dominate their thinking. They literally focus entire conversations on speaking of ways to improve their craft. They are obsessive in their search for the best practices. Teachers think of their students when they first awake in the morning and as they are closing their eyes at night. Always it is with a sense of love and concern that they worry about whether or not they are doing everything possible.
I can’t name all of the wonderful teachers with whom I have worked. The list would be far too long. All I can do is remind them that they know who they are. We have walked together, cried together and laughed together. We have wished with all our being to be able to reach every student who sits before us. We have experienced days when we have been so weary that we wondered if we were going to be able to continue in this incredibly difficult career. Mostly though we have celebrated one tiny victory at a time. We have enjoyed those very precious moments when our efforts have brought a smile to a young person’s face. We have reveled in meeting our former students years after they have left us and seeing what successful human beings they have become.
Many argue over what the most important professions are. We certainly need our doctors and there are times when we would be lost without a lawyer. Our engineers create remarkable things and business persons keep our economic world running smoothly. When our cars break down we need a mechanic right away. So too is a plumber the person we wish to see most when our faucet springs a leak. Virtually none of these professions would be possible without teachers. Everyone who has a successful life has a number of teachers to thank.
This is Teacher Appreciation Week. I have a cousin who has showered her daughter’s teacher with adorable gifts all week long. I suspect that the lucky recipient is feeling quite loved. If you haven’t yet let one of your teachers or one of your children’s teachers know how thankful you are for the work that they do, it is not too late. I can attest to the fact that a quick email,a handwritten note or a sweet card will be treasured forevermore. Every teacher has a box of such trinkets and they mean the world. Take the time to thank your teachers. They need to hear the positive things that you have to say. Give them the gift of knowing that they have indeed made a very important difference.