back to school, compassion in schools, memories of teachers, memories of third grade, reflections on schools, what schools need, young students and the global economy
Every year at this time, as the kids go back to school, I can’t help but reflect on my own years as a student and then as an elementary classroom teacher. This year, my third grade teacher, Mrs. S, has been in my thoughts not only for who she was but for the part she played in developing my beliefs about the role of a teacher.
Third grade could have been a difficult year for me. We were an Air Force family and we had recently moved from Ramstein, Germany back to the states. I had been in an elementary school, on the base in Europe, where a new student was somewhat of a regular occurrence. That was not the case in the public school in Forestville, Maryland. I was a bit shy and Mrs. S. made sure that the transition was as painless as possible. It’s ironic I actually don’t remember much about her except that she had grayish blonde hair, was pregnant, and put her arm around my shoulders…often.
Many years later, during one of those reflecting back discussions with my mom, the topic of school and my third grade year came up. I was shocked to find out that my mom and dad initially had reservations about Mrs. S. I can’t remember exactly what my parents’ concerns were but it had something to do with her academic goals for the year or her professionalism. But my mother was very clear about the reason that they kept me in the class. “You needed a safe, loving environment. We had just upset your little world with a big move and it was most important to us that you went to school each day feeling happy and secure. Mrs. S did that for you.”
My college days, that were spent preparing for a teaching career, were filled with courses and lessons on learning theories, best teaching practices, and the gentle nature of the young child’s psyche. Those topics were repeatedly addressed over the course of my teaching career. But as the years progressed, we talked more and more about test scores and the importance of students being able to compete in a global economy. Ahhh…that global economy. I have read several articles, over the years, that say there is a characteristic among American entrepreneurs that makes them unique. That characteristic is their willingness to fail and then try again. Our culture does not really view failure as failing unless one gives up trying.
If one of our strengths, as a nation, comes from our people who are not afraid of failure, then we need to start when students are young, encouraging them to be all that they can be, to take risks knowing they have the safety net of caring teachers for support. It goes without saying that we need to have classrooms that provide students with academic opportunities but we also need to provide some emotional support as well. Adults, in our schools, need to “put their arms around the shoulders” of their students whether it’s in protecting them from bullies, encouraging them to believe in themselves, or just giving support during life’s scary times.
I sincerely hope that as our nation struggles to improve an educational system, that seems to be failing so many, we don’t underestimate the value of demonstrating tenderness. I had a teacher who exhibited compassion towards me, over 40 years ago, and I never forgot it. It made a difference then. It can make a difference now.
Wow, i super like this post, Linda! You did a very good way of showing the impact of a teacher’s compassion for a student. I had a eureka moment last year where it suddenly dawned on me that more than the teaching strategies, love should be the most important foundation for a teacher because kids and students really know and feel if a teacher truly cares for them. 🙂 This is one heartwarming post.
Thank you Yen. I totally agree that love should be the “foundation for a teacher” and I sensed that you felt that way, from the tone of your writings. A teacher’s actions teach something to children every day even before the academic instruction begins. You have an important job!
What a tender story. In an age when so much of life is directed by the head…it is important to remember that our compass is often our heart.
“it is important to remember that our compass is often our heart.” What a great comment by acxrc to a wonderful post. Teaching is certainly not what it used to be because of these blasted test scores, but we can still be compassionate in the classroom. I tried to be the teacher I would want my children to have.
What a wonderful gift you gave to your students and their parents. Can you imagine a world where doctors, attorneys,(everyone) lived by the thought…treat others as you would want them to treat your loved ones?
The teacher I remember most was my 7th grade homeroom teacher- Ms. D. Ms. D was a tough, no-nonsense woman with a class full of kids from poor families. She dared to tell kids (the whole class, she never singled anyone out) that they needed to bathe and fix their hair every day.
Anyway, unlike you I didn’t need someone to hug me. What I needed was someone that acknowledged and encouraged my abilities, and Ms. D did just that. I am so grateful for her.
I think a really dedicated teacher does recognize what her students need. The world needs teachers like Mrs. D. and Mrs. S.
Thanks, Rumpy Dog, for commenting. Now, I’m off to read your blog!