School starts tomorrow. As always, the girls are ready, having long ago given in to end-of-summer boredom. I’m reminded this time of year of one of the best commercials ever: a joyful parent skipping down the aisles of an office supply store to the tune of the Christmas song It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, with their sullen child in tow. It’s also got me reflecting on the teachers who left a mark on my life that still echoes today.
My 10th grade biology teacher, Mr. Pitts, didn’t look much older than we were when he began teaching at my small, rural Kansas high school. He was meant to be a teacher…passionate about both science and kids. Somehow, on what had to be a limited budget, he managed to secure frogs, earthworms, pigs, a cat, and even Moray eels for us to dissect. As we prepared for one of them, he told us a story about bringing a dead possum he’d found on the road to dissect at his last school. I’ll spare you the graphic details of what he found when he opened the critter up, but suffice it to say that I learned a memorable lesson that day. Yes, I learned not to dissect roadkill, but the real lesson that day was what it looks like when you love your job. More importantly, Mr. Pitts was the first person in my life to suggest that science and faith don’t have to be in conflict. If made today, his candid response in a public school classroom to a student’s challenge to evolution might get him fired, but I’m grateful for the permission and peace that he first gave me to believe in both. From my 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Brothers, I got my first taste of adulthood, as I learned how difficult it would be to live on $200 a week as a meter maid, the job I drew out of a hat for a budgeting exercise. I learned how to turn writing into a process from my freshman English teacher Mrs. Starnes, a skill I could not then imagine would so impact my life for so long after graduation. And I learned how special a teacher can make an awkward pre-teen feel from the Hardesty’s. I’m still in awe of how they could be so gruff and yet be so beloved by so many of their students. Though they never had children of their own, they touched the lives of thousands of children in 40 years of teaching, many of them deeply.
Teachers have a unique ability to impact the lives of others; that’s why the good ones choose to do it. But we don’t have to teach to make a difference. A hospital visit, a well-timed card to a friend going through a difficult time, even a cheery ‘hello’ and a smiling ‘thank you’ to the store checkout clerk have the power to change someone’s day. In honor of all the great teachers out there, this week I’m going to especially focus on paying forward the impact mine had on me. Watch out for kids on the street, and may all the students and teachers have a blessed school year.
“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” –Henry Adams