Dedicated to my teachers, the people who have molded me into who I am today. You know who you are.
This past week has been Teacher Appreciation Week, and I don’t know if I can do them justice with this post. For all that they mean to me, however, I have to try.
I do not think I could ever properly describe the amount of respect I have for teachers and those in the education field. From the time I was little, I have absolutely lived for school and for learning, and my teachers have always been and continue to be the gateway into that world. Except for the very, very rare individual I come across every few years or so, I have loved each and every one. I have remembered each and every one.
Teachers don’t receive nearly enough recognition for what they do. In fact, no one really stops to question what it is they do. We take them for granted. We don’t understand just how hard their jobs are. So think about it now: there was a time in your life, reader, when you did not know how to string letters together to make words and write sentences. There was a time you didn’t know math. There was a time you didn’t know about the solar system and gravity and the Renaissance and the World Wars and other nations. There was a time you didn’t know how our country was founded and how grass grows and why fire is hot and what certain words mean. There was a time, reader, when you did not know how to read.
Somebody taught you all of that. Somebody patiently and lovingly wove each individual thread of knowledge into your mind until it all came together and you understood. Somebody challenged you. Somebody taught you patience and perseverance and the wonder of learning something new. Somebody opened your mind to endless possibilities. That somebody is a teacher, and they teach us far more than what they’ve been paid to educate us about. These amazing people teach so much more through their little quirks, their ways of doing things, and their ways of looking at life. They teach beyond their classrooms. They impact us far more than I think we ever realize.
One of my favorite teachers of all time was my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. McMath. She read to us every day after lunch from chapter books that kept us on the edge of our seats, and she took us outside to play kickball on Fridays when we were worn out and could work no more. Several times throughout the day she had us do little activities called “Brain Breaks” where we could get up and move around and prepare ourselves for the next subject. To this day I can recite the entire preamble to the Constitution and name all 50 states in alphabetical order because she made up songs for them and led us in singing them every day until we had them memorized. Her knowledge of the way our minds worked and her passion for teaching us made that year one of the very best.
Not only was Mrs. McMath a fun teacher, she was perhaps one of the most encouraging teachers I’ve ever had. By the fifth grade, I was writing long stories and, eventually, little novellas that I proudly printed off and brought to her to read every month or so. She read every single one. And I don’t just mean she pretended to read my measly little stories and would come back and tell me they were good – she read them and brought them back to me with a big smile on her face and comments about her favorite parts. She told me I could be anything – as did all my teachers. Whenever I said that I wanted to be an author, she said she knew I would become one of the very best. Someday, she said, she would look for my books in print. I doubt the “very best” part will be true, but I still look forward to mailing her a copy of one of my printed books someday with the note, You believed in me and here is the result.
Another teacher I will never forget as long as I live, one that I will always remember as a source of comfort during my first months of high school, is Mr. Wood. In the short semester that I had him as my English teacher, his class was the only class I had that I genuinely did not want to leave after forty-five minutes. I lived in Florida at the time, and I was miserable. For various reasons, I was literally sick with fear every morning as I was driven to school and I positively dreaded getting out of the car. I would rush to my first period class – Mr. Wood’s – where I was safe. He was always at his desk, going over lesson plans, and I was usually the first one there. He always greeted me with a smile and a loud, “Hello there!” and happily went over the day’s plan with me as we waited for the other students to arrive. When class started he would have us write for five minutes or so about various topics so we could “loosen up”: the weather, what we did over the weekend, our favorite food.
I will never forget the time he had us write about our friends. Well, I literally walked into that huge school not knowing a single person in it since my family and I had just moved. Because everyone had already settled into cliques, I was friendless in that school for a long time. So I wrote about the friends I had left behind in Arizona and California, and vented about how sad I was, how I was hoping that I would meet nice people soon. The next day when we got those papers back, I saw that in addition to his usual A+, he had written, Don’t worry – you will with a large smiley face across the top. Add this to his fun way of teaching us Homer’s Odyssey (the projects he had us do were things we actually looked forward to doing) and his class was perhaps the only one I was very sad about leaving when my family moved back to Arizona after six months in Florida. His kindness to me during one of the worst times of my life is something I’ll never forget.
Once I was back in Arizona, I was given two choices for high schools. I could go to one of the large public schools that most of the kids my age already attended. I nearly burst into tears at the very idea. After going through a living hell in another huge school, why on earth would I want to repeat that experience? I asked for my second option. The second choice was to attend a tiny little charter school in Scottsdale called Foothills Academy. Needless to say, I immediately asked to go there, and this choice was probably one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.
Foothills Academy is a school that is better described as a family. Why? Because of the teachers. They love their students and they love each other and they love what they do. Because the school is so small, because they take the time to get to know each pupil not as a head in a crowd, but as an individual, those teachers are able to dedicate as much time and attention to their students as they would to their own children. Over the course of the three and a half years I attended this little academy, these educators became my friends with whom I could chat in the courtyard, debate political issues, contemplate and question life in general. I cried after my graduation. The school and the people in it truly was (or is it “were”, Ms. Crawford? :D) my home away from home.
All of these teachers are just a few examples of the kinds of people that are teaching the coming generation, and they are why I still have hope for the future. Needless to say, my admiration for teachers has grown with each passing year. These years of observation, however, have increased my irritation with the diminished amount of respect this coming generation and their parents give teachers everywhere. And with this indignation comes a question I will never be able to answer:
How on earth do teachers do it?
How do they stay on top of grading papers and writing report cards and decorating their classrooms and tutoring students and attending meetings and planning lessons and controlling their classrooms all while making sure each individual student is getting the attention he or she needs? How do they make sure a child understands while balancing all of that? How do they do it on such a minimal salary? How do they do it without going insane?
How does society not look upon these people with the upmost respect and gratefulness? We trust generation after generation with these educators, we give them our most precious resources, our children, to look after and teach. How is it that they are among the most underpaid people in the history of employment? How is it that sports personnel get paid millions of dollars to throw a ball around on a field while the men and women who are educating the future rulers of the world are taking money out of their own paychecks to cover classroom expenses, to buy granola bars for students sent to school without a lunch, to buy paper for their classrooms the school board can’t afford to give them due to budget cuts?
My only conclusion to this is what I have known all along: teachers aren’t in it for the salary or because they get a couple of months “off” in the summer. They are in it because they love what they do, and for that, I have the utmost respect for them and everything they stand for. The teachers I have had in my life have shaped me into who I am today, and I am forever grateful for that.
And so, to my teachers and professors who are reading this now:
I remember you. Every one of you. If we choose not to count pre-school and daycare, I attended five schools before entering college and have had countless teachers in my life… but I remember each and every single one of you.
Words cannot describe how grateful I am for your influence, your patience, your undying and unconditional support. Because of the impact you all have had on my life, I am in college and happily studying a subject I love. I read and write because of you, I know I can do anything because of you. Education is one of the most powerful, most sacred gifs any one person can have, and you have given it to me and more. You still give because that is in your nature. You will always give.
From the bottom of my heart… thank you.
Thank you for everything.