To all the teachers I’ve loved before…

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With less than two weeks to go before school starts again, kids have never been more interested in teachers than they are right now. They’re practically stalking them.

This happens every year. A few days ago, my 15-year-old daughter told me she’s been doing research on a few of the teachers she’s scheduled to have. She texted friends the age-old question kids have been asking for years: “What do you know about Ms. So-and-So? Is she nice? Is she hard?”

Then the friends text back with stories about “things they’ve heard.” I told my daughter to take these stories with a grain of salt, since teachers are often the targets of exaggerated or downright false rumors that circulate year in and year out.

In my experience, the good teachers have always outnumbered the bad ones. And for many of us, there are a few incredible teachers who have been pivotal in our lives – not only for what they taught us academically but also because they showed us examples of how to be good people.

Back to SchoolI used to wonder if my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Hatch, was a judge when he wasn’t at school because, to me, he was the wisest person I knew. He was always in command yet also kind, patient and dignified in every way. He was the first teacher who saw potential in me that I didn’t yet see for myself. Even more importantly, he convinced me I could do more than my timid heart had yet dared to do.

In high school, Mrs. Butler made me realize I love grammar but also gave me an inspiring example of how a successful woman in the workplace conducts herself. She always looked and acted like she was about to meet with an important group of investors in a high-rise boardroom. Something about her level of professional commitment made us feel like more than just another group of awkward 10th graders. The boys not-so-secretly fell in love with her, and the girls kept trying to figure out how to attain her level of style and effortlessly cool demeanor. (I’m still trying.)

The yearbook teacher and drama instructor, Mrs. Branson, had a personality far bigger than her petite body. When she laughed, she really meant it. When she was mad, she meant that, too. She showed me what it looks like to speak your mind with conviction but also not to take things too seriously. The entire time I knew her, she struggled with lupus, an auto-immune disease that caused intense physical pain in her joints. When she walked slowly and painfully down the hallway, she exuded endurance, persistence, bravery, and the sheer strength it takes to live with a chronic illness that never gives you a day off.

My writing teacher Mrs. Orlicek showed me the magic of writing that connects with a reader. The grade I made on any given essay wasn’t nearly as important to me as reading the comments she’d write in the margins. I lived for a “Great phrase!” or a “Strong use of imagery” response from her.

Once I had kids who turned into students, teachers became even more important. Over the past 15 years, I’ve felt such immense gratitude for so many of my kids’ teachers – the ones who made them feel seen, special and capable. The ones who showed them that “smart” and “cool” can coexist in the same person. The ones who showed them kindness and respect while still requiring excellent work.

There’s something so reassuring when you meet a teacher and know that they truly “get” your kid and that you can trust them with your kid’s mind and heart.

I read a news story today in The Washington Post about the teacher shortage affecting so many schools in America. In one state, for example, 88 percent of the school districts reported problems with teacher shortages. And in Houston, some of the largest school districts have up to 1,000 positions that aren’t yet filled.

Those numbers scare me for school kids and also for our collective future as a society. If ever there was a time when our country needs good teachers – good humans – to play a big role in the lives of kids, it is undoubtedly right now.

To all the teachers I’ve loved before – and all the teachers I’ve never even met – I hope this is your best school year yet. Thank you for being here.

Gwen Rockwood is a syndicated freelance columnist. Email her at gwenrockwood5@gmail.com. Her book is available on Amazon. 

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