This is the time of year when new teachers begin to feel as if they
might not make it through until June. One of the ways that I still
preserve my energy and spirit for teaching is by collecting inspiration
from others through stories and through memories. I keep a journal
to write down some of the meaningful quotations and the stories that
have touched me and have helped me understand that what I do is very
important. These stories have led me to understand that so often I
really learn more from my students than they learn from me! If you
ever doubt your importance, you might get encouragement from some
of my memories and stories.
One of my favorite stories involves
Jascha Heifetz, the world famous Russian-born violinist. Shortly
after his appointment as professor of music at the University of
California in Los Angeles, Heifetz was asked what had prompted this
change of direction in his career? "Violin playing is a perishable
art," said Heifetz solemnly. It must be passed on as a personal
skill; otherwise it is lost." Then with a smile, he continued: "I
remember my old violin professor in Russia. He said that someday
I would be good enough to teach."
A second quote is from Lee Iacocca of the Chrysler Corporation.
He said: "In a truly rational society, the best of us would strive
to be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something
else, because passing on civilization from one generation to the
next is the highest honor and highest responsibility anyone could
And then there are the memories....
Take a little journey with me as I go back into the past and remember
some of my students and what they have taught me.
My first year of teaching was in 1966 in Pennsylvania. I met a
wonderful girl in one of my classes. She had a very troubled life.
She lived in a basement with her abusive mother and each day was
a struggle for her. I spent many hours with her, even on weekends,
and when I moved, I continued to share letters with her. She managed
to earn top grades in high school and to go on and get a college
degree. This young woman taught me about strength.
That same year in another class (supposedly a "low achieving" class)
I had a young woman who faced each day with joy and humor. I referred
to this group of lively young people, many of whom had siblings
in jail, as my "5th period cherubs" in what, I suspect, was wishful
thinking! At the end of the year, as I was saying goodbye and preparing
to move to California, this class, under the leadership of this
young woman, gave me a bracelet with an engraved charm. It read,
"Love from your 5th period cherubs." They taught me about patience.
The next year I taught in California in a high school that had
a new and small Latino population. One of my students was a proud
young Cuban, who wanted to begin a soccer team. None of the regular
P.E. teachers would coach the team because there was no money for
that position. My student convinced me to be the "coach." (I knew
nothing about soccer in 1967!) In fact, he coached the team and
I arranged their games. This young man taught me about perseverance.
Years later I had a pair of students, male and female, that were
somewhat neglected by their families. They helped me start a Science
Club and provided the energy for planning trips to the tidepools
and to the desert. I enjoyed these trips as much as they did so
when I got a beautiful note of thanks from them when they graduated,
I felt doubly blessed. These two students taught me about generosity.
And now many years later in North Carolina, I have saved other
memories. One young African American male, charming and handsome
and full of good humor started calling me "mom" because we shared
the same last name. When other students asked me if it was true,
I had fun keeping them guessing! He taught me perspective, to laugh
and enjoy our differences - and much later when he was put in jail
for a time, he taught me humility - that sometimes I could not make
enough difference in a life.
And then, there was the young girl who shared her tears and sadness
over the stream of abusive stepfathers, the burns, the alcohol.
We had coffee most early mornings. At first she talked, I listened
and tried to help, but eventually, we learned to share other conversations.
She was inducted into the honor society and won a scholarship to
college. She taught me about courage.
And the list goes on: a wonderful burly young man who loved my
classroom of animals and cried when a big Savanna Monitor lizard
died - he taught me about tenderness. And another young man who
lost his mother at an early age and lived with his elderly grandparents
- a young man who was always upbeat and taught me about happiness
and the value of each and every life.
The parade of students continues each year; and each year my students
teach me about the strength of the human spirit.
As you begin your careers you will be taught by your students -
you just need to be open to the lessons.
And you will grow to love teaching with a passion. As you love
teaching more, you will share your enthusiasm with your students.
The circle grows and is strengthened!
Each year, when we do teacher evaluations, the message comes through
clearly that students value the teachers who share their passions
for the subjects they teach AND they value the teachers who care
about their students.
Plato is quoted as saying: Those having torches will pass them
on to others.
I light your torch with mine. And you will light the torches of
your students for many years to come. They will carry their torches
into the world and in the words of Christa McAuliffe - you will
have touched the future.
Please share you ideas with me via e-mail.