In sixth grade I failed a math test. It was not really a surprise as I was an indifferent student and had not bothered to study. My young teacher called me over to her desk to speak privately. It was the 70s and she wore a bright orange and pink mini-dress, dangling earrings and long fake eyelashes. I couldn’t stop looking at those eyelashes. We did not have a conversation. She did not ask me what went wrong or give me a chance to offer up feeble excuses. This was not the 21st century and she had no interest in my feelings or thoughts.
My teacher looked me in the eye and told me I would never do that again, simply never. She told me what she expected of me and that, henceforth, that is what I would do. She was neither stern nor angry. In her mind, and later in mine, she was just stating the facts. I don’t remember what she taught me that year and I never threatened to be a math major, but her face, her words, her unremitting expectations never left me. #TeachersChangeLives
Sometime between that day at Dearborn Street Elementary School and the day I sent my oldest son off to nursery school, I forgot the most important gifts that teachers give us. Luckily as my sons progressed through school, I was given a chance to learn my lesson all over again. I do not have enough words to convey my appreciation to:
1. Teachers Who See Kids As They Really Are
Kids go to school with baggage. They are someone’s little sister or the class clown. They are the bright one or the musical one. They are tagged, wrapped and tied in a bundle so tight that often others cannot see beyond the label. But some teachers have superpowers. These teachers see kids for what they are or even more superpower-ish, what the kids hope to be.
2. Teachers Who Show Kids How To Organize Their Thoughts, Writing, and Backpacks
Small boys, in my experience, are not always naturally organized, nor do they want to be. My kids were blessed with teachers who taught them that thoughts and writing are at their most valuable when laid out clearly and logically. For a generation that mumbles and texts in acronyms, teachers who convey the power of clarity in both the written and spoken word set our kids up for life.
3. Teachers Who Make Clear Another’s Point of View
It is all too easy for a members of family to see the world the same way. The very best teachers are those who can lift our children’s heads and show them the world through another’s eyes. Those eyes can be Chaucer’s or Lincoln’s or a classmate’s but, in the end, school is of little value if we go in and come out with our world view unaltered.
4. Teachers Who Teach Respect For Knowledge And The Power It Bestows
Twenty-first century teachers have a huge challenge. They are tasked with teaching our kids information that, frankly, kids can find (often in better and more vivid detail) in their pockets on Wikipedia. Teachers who hold back the tide of cynicism and teach kids that they are nothing if their phones are full and their heads are empty, earn my gratitude.
5. Teachers Who Give Kids Confidence
Every kid has moments of doubt. For some it is academic and for others it is social or athletic. School can deflate kids, making them feel insecure about their abilities and how they stack up against their peers. Unending gratitude goes to every teacher who sent a kid out of their classroom more sure of themselves than when they walked in.
6. Teachers Who Share a Laugh
The work in the classroom can be hard, sometimes frustrating for teacher and student. Any teacher who can run the gauntlet of the school year, sense of humor intact, has given her students a true gift. Life gives every one of us greater challenges after we leave school and they are all lightened because we learned to laugh.
7. Teachers, Particularly In High School, Who Listen
At some point in adolescence, every teen needs an adult other than their parents who will listen to their thoughts. I will be forever appreciate teachers who, no matter how overwhelmed with their own responsibilities, always have an open door and a ready ear.
8. Teachers Who Don’t Let Kids Get Away With Anything
Teachers can often see our kids with clearer eyes that we can. And while we might make excuses for our offspring and cut them some slack because of our love, teachers who hold our kids to high standards do them a world of good. It is those teachers, the ones who tell us that we are capable of more than we knew, who change our lives forever.