Historically, an apple for the teacher symbolized a gift of appreciation from a student.
According to an article in Smithsonian.com, back in pioneer days, teachers actually received nutritional sustenance from their pupils and their families. Today’s educator is in need of a different sort of sustenance from those they serve–encouragement. Something not easily found in a culture that has such a negative view of teachers.
When I was eight, I fell in love with the idea of teaching. I watched Mrs. Bunch work her magic on all my classmates—celebrating, highlighting, encouraging us every day. She was the first teacher I wanted to emulate. By the end of third grade, the seed of a dream began to sprout in me.
Three years later, I found myself in a new city and a new school. My sixth grade teacher, ironically also named Mrs. Bunch, watered and cultivated that dream. I loved her from the start—she was the first to notice me. At that age, I already had a very low opinion of myself and had begun to acquire the skill of ‘invisibility’—the ability to be present in a place and remain undetected.
This teacher would not allow me to ‘hide’. She made me feel like I had something to say that was worth listening to; like I was smart and special. Her gentle manner and steadfast belief in even the toughest kids in the class made me want to be like her when I grew up. She inspired my belief that teaching is a noble and worthwhile profession. That belief carried me beyond the voices of disapproval that tried to talk me out of this career choice. “There’s no money in that”, they warned. “You could do better” they advised. Twenty-three years later, that belief continues to carry me above those same voices, still trying to convince me that what I do is not significant.
Over the years, I have experienced seasons where my integrity and commitment to my students have been doubted; I have been disrespected and unappreciated, made to feel unnecessary, and ill-equipped. Watching a dear friend and colleague go through the discouragement of such a season, I ask myself, Why stay? Why put up with it? Why not do something easier?
Contrary to popular belief, teaching is not easy. We have the responsibility to not only educate young people, but guide them along and help build their character. Our goal is to produce dynamic, compassionate members of society. Many come to us already hurting, lacking belief in themselves and dealing with issues well beyond their years. It is part of our duty to create an environment where they feel safe, loved and nurtured, in order to be open to learning in general. Most people are unaware of the extra time spent before and after school, late nights, weekends, holidays and summers–planning and thinking of the most strategic ways we can help our students succeed. All part of our commitment; largely unseen, not done for ‘stickers’ or acknowledgement.
I had an epiphany while writing this blog–I have taken for granted the fact that I am living my dream—the dream that quietly dropped into my heart so long ago, that I worked so hard to make a reality. Somewhere along the line my dream became a job. Critical voices around me crowded out the joy that teaching brings. The ever-increasing demands and constant judgment distracted me and made me forget momentarily—this is what I was born to do. I love teaching children. This is not simply a job; but a calling, and not just anybody can do it. I am proud to be counted among those who dedicate their lives to this great work.
Photos, small gifts, and notes decorated with hearts and flowers serve as little reminders of why I stay–crumbs. Mementos of every class I ever taught, preserved in time. They help me understand that, although kids do not fully recognize it until years later, our time together was meaningful. Happy are the rare moments when I run into a former student and learn they are well and successful. Seeing their growth and accomplishment is very rewarding. These are the crumbs that make us stay; that remind us why we wanted to do this in the first place. More often than not; however, we are left wondering and hoping that life turned out well for our charges.
Is there a teacher you hold dear in your memories? Given the opportunity, would you reach out and let them know what an impact they had on your life? Imagine your story to be a shiny, red apple for your teacher; sustenance for their weariness.Your story could be included in the book project, A Crumb for the Teacher. This book will be a collection of stories about special teachers written by the students who remember them best. Perhaps your most memorable teacher is in need of an affirmation that their labor of love matters, and your story may be just the thing they need!
Visit the projects page on this site and select A Crumb for the Teacher for more information. Submit your story today!