May 3 is National Teacher Day.
In Kindergarten, we were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. Girls were given the choice of mother, nun, nurse, or teacher—not necessarily in that order. We had to say our choice aloud. I knew that mother—from what I had witnessed thus far—was not a very good occupation. I knew too little of nuns, and I was definitely not nurse material. I didn’t have much empathy. That left “teacher”, which I spouted mechanically when it was my turn.
I was a lost soul, wandering whichever way I was pointed and I was pointed to teaching.
Teaching Art became my life’s career—especially with Youth at Risk and children in low income areas. Even though it was a role that came to me accidentally, I loved it, and I learned a lot from my students. I hope they learned half as much from me.
If you’re fortunate, teaching is not something you learned, but something you were born with.
One of my principals made that observation after her annual teacher assessment visit in my classroom. She told me that I was a “born” teacher— a comment that took me by surprise. It affected me tremendously and after that event, I made even more effort to be sure that every day, every hour, in the classroom was a worthy one.
Every year when I see the National Teacher Day advertising, I can’t help but think of my favorite teachers and how they earned my respect and admiration.
My first Great Teacher was Sister Florentine, my 8th grade teacher. She was the first person in my life to give me a hug. I can still feel the rough brown wool of her habit wrapped around my shoulders and the pressure of her wooden cross on my chest as she drew me close.
My second Great Teacher was Adele Davis, my 9th grade English teacher. She read my essays aloud to the class. If we had a two page assignment, I usually wrote four. I loved to write and I didn’t know when to stop. Our class was the period before lunch, so as she read my work, all eyes were on the minute hand of the clock as it inched forward to noon. I knew better than to think anyone might be listening. I didn’t have anyone to sit with at lunch so it wasn’t a big deal for me.
I sat at the back of the class, next to student X, a guy who made derogatory remarks about my body. Listening to Mrs. Davis distracted me from my self-consciousness and the daily pain of having to sit next to him.
Writing comedy was what I enjoyed most. I listened intently, noticing which lines she liked, which sentences made her shake with laughter. Her reading glasses quivered, making their way down to the tip of her nose where she pushed them back up again.
Those minutes before the lunch buzzer sounded were some of the best times of my life. She placed value on what I had to share.
Both of those teachers died quite a long time ago. As an adult, I tried to find them multiple times, but it was before the Internet, not an easy task. Now, of course, I’ve seen their obituaries. They both lived long lives.
Maybe, if you had a great teacher in your life, on May 3, you might reach out to them with a few words of thanks from the past.