I will admit it; I was a teacher's pet. Well, more like stray dog.
When I was in third grade, I spent hours after school and on Saturdays with my teacher. She was a lovely twenty-something woman who had travelled extensively and who had the patience of a saint. She made up things for me to help her with, and while I enjoyed being helpful, what I loved most was listening to her tell me stories from her travels around the world. In fact, I still remember her telling the story of how she learned the hard way to not eat with her left hand in one country (hint...it has something to do with what they typically used the hand for). For the first time, my eyes were opened to the possibility of cultural differences.
During my senior year of high school, I spent many hours conversing after school with my teachers. One, in particular, was moved from guidance counselor to government teacher right before my senior year. Her displeasure with this move was obvious, but she still listened patiently and wisely to us as we complained about our small, selfish gripes against the administration. She taught me how to take action instead of just complaining.
Another teacher that year stuck a book in my hands and said, "Read this. You'll enjoy it." The book was Push by Sapphire. Part of me still laughs at the thought of her sticking this book–one filled with swear words, graphic descriptions of rape and incest, and an unadulterated picture of urban poverty–in my hands. What made her think that was a good idea? Whatever it was that pushed her to do it, it changed my life. To this day, I credit that book with inspiring me to be part of the solution to the problems within education.
Here's what I didn't know back then that I know now, though. While my third grade teacher never said this out loud to me, I know that she probably would have loved for me to go home instead of hanging out with her. After a long day of teaching very difficult children (and we had a few who would challenge even the best), I can only imagine that she probably would have loved some quiet to decompress and write lesson plans for the next day.
While my senior year government teacher was listening to us externalize our adolescent demands, she was dealing with the stress of teaching a class she hadn't taught in decades, an administration that showed her zero respect, and a declining culture within the teaching staff in general (a large portion of our teachers left the following year for better districts). She had all of the makings of some serious burnout.
As students and parents, we often fail to recognize the humanity of our teachers because they rarely complain to us. They exhibit patience and dedication all while internalizing the stress of their profession and their personal lives. They work tirelessly to get our children to read, write, think critically, and come of age while also dealing with the politics of education, their miserly pay scale, and life in general.
Teachers change lives. Everyday.
This holiday season, consider the teachers who changed your life. Take a moment to jot them a note to say, "Thanks." Better yet, tell them what impact they had on your life, so that they know that all of their sacrifice is worth it. Because it is.
This holiday season, I'm thankful for Ms. Heimlich, Ms. Brill, and Ms. Lakshamanan. They helped to make me who I am today, and their sacrifices have not been forgotten.