Happiness is Serving Students
The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires. ~ William Arthur Ward
I have tremendous respect for teachers, I always have. I had some fantastic teachers over my lifetime that had an impact on me. My third grade teacher Mrs. Nicholson loved me, she always made me feel special and for decades after having me as a student she continued to do so. She would check in on me through family and friends and whenever I saw her she would always say I was her favorite student. My fifth grade teacher Mrs. Garno really paid attention to me. She recognized my intelligence and pulled me out of class to do extra, higher level math with two other students. One has been one of my best friends for the last 45+ years. That class was where I learned to play chess, gave me the first glance of an alternate path, I was a kid from the neighborhood and Mrs. Garno also saw me starting to head down the wrong path and showed up at my house one night to talk with my mom. Her intervention was likely a turning point in my life. In high school I had some of the best teachers in my life. Two married teachers Mr. and Mrs. Russell taught my Biology and Calculus classes and were incredible, challenging and inspirational teachers. Mr. Sullivan, my English and the best teacher I’ve ever known, made a weird kid feel smart, made me feel like there was far more in the world outside of the town I was growing up in and that I could see it. I know he did the same for many, many others including some of my good friends. I still hear his voice every time I write, I always date my writings. Years and years before I ever wrote anything worth reading, he would say to me in class, always date your papers, someday when you’re a famous author people will want to know when you wrote this.
Both of my sisters are teachers in the secondary system, they are both great teachers. One of the reasons I do what I do is the satisfaction that comes from knowing the impact you can have on someone’s life. Particularly at the Community College level a lot of what we do can transforms people’s lives and not just their lives, but the lives of their families and for generations. Education was my ticket out of a bad neighborhood, a ticket to a life that I dreamed about but never truly thought I would have and made it real.
Tonight I want to talk about something I watched happen the other day. Over the last nearly 20 years in education working as an administrator, I’ve had the privilege of working with some really fantastic teachers. In my current job, as a dean at Skyline College there is an instructor I’ve gotten to know this year who is really fantastic. He and I share some similarities in our background and both of us were able to use education as a ticket to a better life and are trying to give back. He’s one of those teachers who gets his students excited about the subject, no easy feat as a math instructor. He desperately cares about his students and sees his role as both math and LIFE instructor. He challenges his students but is an absolute cheerleader for their success.
The other day he and I were in the hallway having a conversation and classes let out. As students came by he would see former students. He engaged each of them, not just to say hi but to ask about them. How are you doing? How are your classes? He asked questions about them and made direct eye contact with each of them. He finished each interaction with a simple phrase, “I’m proud of you.” It was said sincerely and I watched every single student walk away with their chins up and their heads a little higher. It was truly inspirational to watch the impact he was having on each and every student.
Whether or not you’re a teacher, in your life you have opportunities all of the time with young people. You have interactions that often seem utterly innocuous, but every single one of them is an opportunity. In each of those interactions you have an opportunity to provide a positive encouraging word to them. Something as simple as you’re awesome, you’re doing a great job, wow you’re really smart or just I’m proud of you can have an incredible impact on a younger person, or even a student who might not be so young. You never know how much someone might look up to you, and they may never tell you. If we can all do this more often, we might help our children, our students, have a more positive opinion of themselves, feel more confident and eventually achieve greater things. It’s a little thing from us, but done sincerely can be absolute huge to them. So tonight my friends, be kind, be positive and express those positive thoughts to children and students and help them have happier and more successful days. ~ Rev Kane