I got a call a couple weeks ago from an art teacher I met this past winter and, by the end of our conversation, a seed was planted in my mind. We talked about how certain teachers might have a profound impact on someone’s life and never know it. The course of a child’s life is changed with a kind word or a piece of advice or just by serving as a subtle example of how to live in this world. Meanwhile, the teacher might only be aware of the stresses of the job – the politics, the workload, the financial pressures.
I hung up the phone and started to think back on teachers who impacted me. I was one of the lucky ones. I went to a small Baptist school with so few students that it was more like years of private tutoring. There was a tight-knit community around the school and the teachers saw their life as purposeful and mission-driven. It was a calling as much as a job. They were shaping our hearts as well as our minds, hoping to send us into the world with a strong sense of right and wrong.
I remember the teacher who taught me in both fifth and sixth grade. There were only two students in the class both years, including me. I was an avid reader and already had an interest in politics. My teacher came up with a list of books for us to read that year, based on our interests. We read just about every Victor Hugo and Steinbeck book, because I was such a big fan, and we read “The Diary of Anne Frank.” With each book, we had the hard conversations about human nature. And when it came time to learn about politics, we got our parents’ permission to drive the two hours to Cheyenne, Wyoming, to tour the capitol and sit down with our state representatives to learn about it first-hand. That experience was made possible by the dynamics of the school, but it was expanded by the thoughtfulness of a good teacher who let the curriculum be a bit of a winding path.
I remember my first grade teacher who brought in the shaggy sheepdog that wandered onto the playground during recess one day. As a class, we cleaned him up and got him some food and adopted him as our own. She had that dog until he died years later. It bonded us as a class, but was also a lesson in kindness. That teacher kept track of most of us for years. She visited a few of us on campus during college and met me for lunch at an airport in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she was living when I was in my 20s.
And I remember my ninth grade Latin teacher, who watch me closely when my parents divorced. He wasn’t intrusive, but would stop by my locker some days to ask me how I was doing. I didn’t realize at the time that I was going through a difficult time. I was too busy being a teenager. He knew and he made sure I aware that someone was watching out for me.
Those teachers didn’t stand on the table like Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society” – shouting and cheering us on to greatness. They weren’t inspirational figures, per se. But they were kind and creative and present. And that’s all it took to shape me and give me the internal compass as an adult to choose one path over another at each crossroads.
I imagine all of you had at least one teacher like that.
Remember how I said that phone conversation two weeks ago planted a seed in my mind? Here’s what came of it. I want to do something special for those teachers. It’s not much, but it’s what we have to give. I want those teachers to know they made a difference.
As part of a Christmas present to the community, I want to publish pages of short essays from you, telling the story of the teacher who made a difference in your life. So we can publish as many as possible, keep it to 250 words. If you have a photo, send it. If you don’t have a photo, don’t let that stop you.
Be sure to include the important details: Teacher’s name, school, grade, subject.
If you’ve never put something in the paper before and you’re a little nervous about grammar or spelling, don’t let that stop you. I’ll give the letters a good proofread before we publish.
They will be in the paper on Tuesday, Dec. 14, the first of the 12 days of Christmas. It will be the Quad-City Times gift to you that day and to those teachers who deserve some recognition.
Email your letters to me by Dec. 6 at firstname.lastname@example.org. Call is you have questions: 563-383-2264.