Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On Teachers

As summer turns to fall, and all the little scholars are trudging off to class, my mind turns to my own school days. It's hard to believe how long it's been since I first started school - 28 years now, since I first braved those school bus steps. And now it's been almost ten years since I first started teaching (first, as a grad student TA and now as a prof), and over a year since I finished work on my terminal degree by turning in my doctoral dissertation (almost a year since I actually got the sheepskin). That's a long time to be in the school world. None of it feels like it was a waste, though there were days during that I wondered where it was all going.

My school career was rather lackluster for the first while. In the fourth grade, I had a teacher I adored, and she got me interested in writing short stories (and busted me *hard* for my first and only act of academic dishonesty when I copied an essay on dragons from one of my encyclopedias - whoops!). Other than that year, I didn't start reaching my potential until the sixth grade, when we moved to a small school with only five classrooms and no gym. My teacher was also the principal. There, I began to flourish. I realized - hey, I'm pretty smart, and I can do this writing thing pretty well! It wasn't that my ego just turned on; it was because my teacher made me believe in my skills, and helped me foster them through encouraging me to work hard.

I took that into junior and then senior high, where I developed into a (head)strong, independent, young woman, confident in my brain and my creative abilities, and ready to face the world. Four or five high school teachers, joined later by a handful of university professors, really stand out in my mind as significant, life-long influences on me; those who encouraged, challenged, cultivated, disciplined, praised, bullied, and befriended in just the right amounts, and told me that the world was open to me - me! Me, who grew up in a loving but desperately poor family out in the middle of nowhere. I could do anything I wanted!

And I have.

I can honestly, and truly, say, in the deepest gratitude, that nothing I have done in my life would have been accomplished without them. My mother set my feet on my path by valuing books, but my teachers directed me in that path. Without them, I'm not sure I would have found my way. It likely wouldn't have even occurred to me to even try to find it.

So, to teachers - what you do is important; as important as doctors, law enforcement, or any profession that gets paid out the ears. It is a profound responsibility. We all should stop and value you more than we do. To students - make the most of it. These people have a way of sticking with you for life. It's been a long road for me, but I've had the best of help. I'm thrilled to now be helping new students. Teaching may be the ultimate form of paying it forward.

Have a great term, everyone!

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