I have learned much from the teachers I have worked with over the years. Each of us is different in how we relate to our students, but we all share a profession that entrusts us with the possibility of what each child "could" be. That truth has always unnerved me. Everything I do or say has the potential to build up or tear down, based on the child's perception of what I did or said. Teachers are continually watched --so much of what children learn from us has absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter we teach.
Several years ago I found myself watching a teacher I worked with --what I learned from her had absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter she taught. This teacher effortlessly made learning for her students fun and effective. Kids loved her and eagerly entered her room each morning with a smile, happy to be with her. She evidently believed laughter was a necessary component for learning because her class laughed often. Yet, she had great class control; her discipline techniques were virtually invisible. The students in her room cared for one another because she cared for each of them in a way that was definitely visible. Toward the end of each year, her students topped the scores on state mandated testing and when it came time to clean out desks and go home for the summer there were always tears --her students couldn't bear to think of not having her as their teacher any more.
There was, however, an elephant in her classroom that no one ever saw --an elephant she successfully ignored. You see, this teacher's home life was a challenge. When the bell rang to go home at the end of the day, she went home to problems and a situation that would have completely overwhelmed most. I have often wondered where her strength came from.
We were blessed to have her in our district for several years, however the time came for her to move on and so after the last teacher day of school, we surprised her with a special dinner at a restaurant. We were so loud that several at the tables nearby gave us "the look." The laughter continued until, finally, we decided to go around the table and tell what we would most remember about her. Someone mentioned her laughter, one mentioned a particularly funny story about an incident with a child, the stories and the laughter continued. Then it was my turn. I choked back the wetness I felt behind my eyes and began, "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I want you to know that we know the stress you have been under this year and admire the way you have handled all the things you have going on in your life. Despite everything, you have always come to school and been such a joy for the students in your classroom and such a joy for each of us. You have showed us that no matter what we have to deal with, we can choose to make our classrooms places kids love to be." The elephant in the room saw the tears in our eyes, turned around, and left.
Of all the teachers I have worked with in my thirty three years of teaching, she is the teacher I most admire. She was a craftsman --an innovator --and someone who heaped love and joy on each child. She was an example of selflessness and the power of choosing not to allow feelings to determine actions. She was my teacher.