I was in sixth grade when I first witnessed the crippling effects of a tragic loss. A girl in my school, not much older than I was at the time, had chosen to end her life. Our town was devastated and heartbroken–our school was silent and shocked.
My teacher at the time, who overflowed with wisdom and compassion, realized that what his students needed on that crushing day in middle school was not to learn about the Constitution or the Atomic Elements–what we desperately needed that day was a practical lesson on life.
I can still put myself at the desk where I sat more than twenty five years ago–where I felt scared, confused and painfully sad. I can still see Mr. G. as he sauntered around the classroom; sense the air shift as he walked slowly by my desk. He kept his head down in silence, hooked his hands around his suspenders, and carefully considered his words as he strolled. I watched him so intently–studied him as he groomed his gray beard stroke after stroke.
After several quiet moments, he gently lifted his head and looked us each in the eyes as he continued to pace the floors. As he began to speak, I could feel my anxiety calm.
“Life–no matter how difficult at times–is ALWAYS worth living.”
Another pause in his speech allowed us to soak in those words.
He continued, “As I walked through my yard last night, felt the cold on my face, listened to the snow crunch under my feet, I thought, ‘This–this life is always better than death…'”
He urged each of us in the room to continually remain hopeful, to live our lives to the fullest, and to realize and appreciate the incredible gift we each possessed–the gift of life.
Mr. G. wasn’t required to invest in us on a personal level on that cold winter day. He could have plowed right on through his agenda, avoided the difficult subject and pretended like nothing ever happened. But, instead he chose to be a leader; to teach what desperately needed to be taught.
I often wonder if Mr. G. saved a life that day. I know for me in my life, when I have felt down, depressed, or ridden with grief, I go back in time and take a walk with Mr. G.–and I feel the cold on my face, listen to the snow crunch under my feet, and I think, “This life is ALWAYS worth living.”
I took a metaphorical “walk” with Mr. G. just two years after his impactful speech, when I was in eighth grade.
My teacher at the time was Mr. G.’s wife, Mrs. G.
My family had recently experienced the effects of a horrific car accident that had again devastated our community.
As part of our 8th grade curriculum, our class read a book about a tragic plane crash that detailed the aircraft’s wreckage, passengers injured, and also those deceased. Needless to say–it was a difficult book to read. But, given what my family had just experienced–it was borderline torturous for me to read. I didn’t know if I could finish.
I sat at my desk near the back of the room, turned page after page, and tried desperately to finish the book without crying. I don’t know if Mrs. G. noticed my distressed body language, or if she realized on her own how difficult the book might be for me, but she casually worked her way through the aisles and nonchalantly slipped a piece of paper across my desk.
On the note she had written the simple sentence, “Are you ok?”
Her kindness and compassion calmed my anxious heart and fueled my willingness to complete the book. Just as Mr. G. had “seen” his classroom and what they needed two years prior, Mrs. G. “saw” me too, and I felt safe. I knew she cared.
It’s amazing to me how the smallest of moments can have such impact on the entirety of one’s life.
When I was in high school, I was part of a group of kids that were assigned to clean up after our school’s Friday night football game. While picking up trash, I came across a $10 bill. Without thinking, I located a teacher, handed her the money, and got back to looking for garbage. The event never crossed my mind again…until the following week.
First thing Monday morning, Ms. W. exploded into my homeroom with her boundless energy and enormous smile, held up a $10 bill in front of outstretched arms, and began to speak in great detail about honesty and integrity. She took a few steps toward my desk, placed the $10 bill in front of me and told the class that because nobody claimed the money, she was giving it to me. She thanked me for being honest, urged the class to do the same, and left the room. What took a total of three minutes out of Ms. W.’s life encouraged a lifetime of honesty and integrity in mine.
Ms. W. saw me. She encouraged me.
Of all the teachers I’ve enjoyed over the years, Ms. W.’s mother, Mrs. W., arguably had the most impact on my life.
Every day after Mrs. W. finished her lesson, my classmates and I would line up at the door and wait for the 8th period bell to ring. Right beside the door hung a giant cork board on the wall, and on it were attached many Senior’s pictures. At the end of each class, my eyes would fixate on the picture of the face that I most loved to gaze upon, and Mrs. W. took notice.
She began to talk to me about the boy I stared at on a daily basis–and she was doing the exact same thing to him–only, she was talking to him about me.
Fast forward twenty years, and I have been married to that face I loved to gaze upon for 17 years, and we have four beautiful children together.
Mrs. W. saw me–and she saw my husband.
Teachers have an extraordinary privilege and huge responsibility to impact the lives of their students. I could easily write a 10,000 word essay detailing each of my teacher’s strengths during my 17 years of schooling, but I just want to tip my hat to the ones who had the most lasting affect on my life–the teachers who used brief moments to teach something profound about life–not just material from a textbook.
If you’re a teacher reading this, I’m sure you’re already well aware of the giant influence you have on your students’ lives. But if you’re not, I challenge you to act upon those instincts that prompt you toward interacting with your students in a special way. You would probably be amazed at the potential you have to touch their young hearts–both now and for the rest of their lives.
Many years ago I watched a video that I will never forget. The video began with a grown man speaking of his early years in grade school; it was plain to see how difficult it was for him to share his story.
He said that as a boy he could never stop tap, tap, tapping on anything that was within reach. He tapped on desks, his chair, on his legs–anything and everything–he couldn’t quit. Several teachers over the years warned him to discontinue disrupting the class, and despite their warnings, he always mindlessly went back to tapping.
Of course, his disobedience landed him in the principal’s office on more than one occasion. And, over the years, he became labelled by teachers and staff as a “problem”.
Until the year he had a teacher “see” him for who God made him to be.
He said he will never forget the day he was called over to his teacher after being caught tapping once again. He was anxiously anticipating his punishment, but instead his teacher looked him in the eyes, opened up his desk drawer and handed him drum sticks. His teacher then lovingly said, “You’re not a problem. You’re a drummer.”
The little drummer boy went on to win all kinds of awards for his skills, be a part of several bands, and travel the globe doing what came naturally to him–all because a teacher spoke life into him and encouraged him to do what he was made to do.
Teachers, I can’t begin to thank you enough for your hard work, dedication, kindness, compassion, perseverance and patience. You are amazing and invaluable.
I made this sign specifically for this post, with the hope that one of my readers would want to give it to a teacher as a gift of appreciation.
In order to be entered in the giveaway, simply comment in the box below (on THIS blog post, NOT on Facebook, because I can’t see all of the comments on Facebook). Of course, my favorite comments will be “shout outs” to amazing teachers (I am a huge fan of inspirational stories). I’m sure most people have at least one little moment of their education that is shareworthy. All kind comments are welcome. A winner will be chosen within the week.
****UPDATE****Liz won the painting*****
Thanks so much for reading.
Please feel free to share this post–especially with a teacher.
Did you enjoy this post? I would love to have you on my mailing list. I invite you to subscribe to our newsletter–that way you won’t miss a thing (especially the giveaways).