Teach & Serve
No. 1 * August 4, 2015
I Am a Teacher
If we considered the many roles are called on to play, the many aspects of the work before us, the many groups we’re called to serve – if we considered all of this before we entered the profession, it’s possible we’d have chosen another path for our lives. But we didn’t. Be we counselors or coaches, teacher or administrators, staff members or librarians, we are all teachers and our lives are better for the pursuit.
I was born the first moment that a question leaped from the mouth of a child. I have been many people in many places. I am Socrates exciting the youth of Athens to discover new ideas through the use of questions. I am Anne Sullivan tapping out the secrets of the universe into the outstretched hand of Helen Keller. I am Aesop and Hans Christian Andersen revealing truth through countless stories. I am Marva Collins fighting for every child’s right to an education. I am Mary McCleod Bethune building a great college for my people. And I am Bel Kaufman struggling to go Up the Down Staircase.
The names of those who have practiced my profession ring like a hall of fame for humanity – Booker T. Washington, Buddha, Confucius, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Moses and Jesus. I am also those whose names and faces have long been forgotten but whose lessons and character will always be remembered in the accomplishments of their students.
I have wept for joy at the weddings of former students, laughed with glee at the birth of their children and stood with head bowed in grief and confusion by graves dug too soon for bodies far too young. Throughout the course of a day I have been called upon to be an actor, friend, nurse and doctor, coach, finder of lost articles, money-lender, taxi driver, psychologist, substitute parent, salesman, politician and a keeper of the faith. Despite the maps, charts, formulas, verbs, stories and books, I have really had nothing to teach; for my students really only have to learn who they are, and I know it takes the whole world to tell you who you are.
I am a paradox. I speak loudest when I listen most. My greatest gifts are in what I am appreciatively willing to receive from my students. Material wealth is not one of my goals, but I am a full-time-treasure-seeker in my quest for new opportunities for my students to use their talents and in my constant search for those talents that sometimes lie buried in self-defeat.
I am the most fortunate of all who labor. A doctor is allowed to usher life into the world in one magical moment. I am allowed to see that life is reborn each day with new questions, ideas and friendships. An architect knows that if a structure is built with care, it may stand for centuries. A teacher knows that if he or she builds with love and truth, what he or she builds will last forever.
I engage in daily battle against peer pressure, negativity, fear, conformity, prejudice, ignorance and apathy. But I have the great allies of intelligence, curiosity, parental support, individuality, creativity, faith, love and laughter. They all rush to my banner with indomitable support.
And whom do I have to thank?
I must thank the people who have made my labors possible: the parents of my students, for they have done me the great honor of entrusting to me their greatest contribution to eternity: their children. And so I have a past that is rich in memory. I have a present that is challenging, adventurous and fun because I am allowed to spend my days with the future.
I am a teacher … and I thank God for it every day.
By John Wayne Schallter, Chicken Soup for the Teacher’s Soul, Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, 2012.