There are those people we meet in life who leave warm memories in our hearts and minds. People who may never know the impact they have on the lives of others.
I will never forget the first time I entered the doors of The Montessori School. It was the summer of 2008 and Justin, my husband, and I toured the school to learn about enrolling Julia, our oldest daughter. Mrs. Wallace, the school secretary, met with us and years after her death, thinking of her puts a smile on my face.
Mrs. Wallace died in 2011 after being in and out of the hospital for several months. Her funeral was attended by many then-current and former families. I am reminded each morning that life is cyclical when her three-year old great-grandchildren arrive at school. Mrs. Wallace is with us still.
I’ve written before about my first-grade teacher, Ernestine Howard. Mrs. Howard will forever be etched into my memory as THAT teacher. The teacher who was excited to greet her students; who made each day an amazing experience; and most of all, who loved her students no matter what happened in class.
None of us know, on any given day, how our words or actions will affect another. Something as simple as a free orange soda or a small compliment may change a person’s day and stay with them for years.
Henry Brooks Adams — great-grandson of John Adams and grandson of John Quincy Adams — wrote, "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops."
Each day we hold the futures of our students in our hands. Futures we don’t even yet understand. Who is to say that the most difficult child in the class cannot become the most successful? Kind words and interactions can make a world of difference to a child, especially those who have a difficult home life. These days, that is a lot of children.
In 2013, TED Talks launched their education division with a PBS special and a talk by Rita Pierson, an educator of more than 40 years. In her talk, Ms. Pierson said, “I came up with a bright idea … I gave them a saying: ‘I am somebody. I was somebody when I came and I’ll be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful and I am strong. I deserve the education that I get here’ … You say it long enough, it starts to be a part of you.”
In the blog post that accompanied the launch of their education division, TED staffers told of the lasting impact of educators on their lives. Shared stories highlight common traits in the educators: compassion, understanding, ingenuity and humor to name a few. Take a few minutes and think about educators who impacted your life. What is it that you remember?
In his TED Talk titled “Help for kids the education system ignores,” Victor Rios credits a high school teacher, Ms. Russ, with “tap(ping) into my soul.” He says, “… she was the kind of teacher that was always in your business.” Abandoned by his father before he was born, Victor “grew up on welfare, sometimes homeless, many times hungry.” Today he studies these children — children like him who grow up with the odds stacked against them. How do we make a difference? How can we effect change?
Victor recommends three things: “get rid of our deficit perspective in education,” “value the stories that young people bring to the schoolhouse” and “resources.” We shouldn’t presume that because children have experiences that differ from our own upbringing that they have shortcomings.
A friend recently shared an article on Facebook titled “What Kids With Trauma Need in School.” An educator, Sandi Lerman, adopted a 10-year old child with complex developmental trauma. She shared what the adoption process taught her on the website adoptionrootsandwings.com.
Sandi’s letter to educators details several ways that teachers and school staff can positively impact the experiences of children with trauma. I would argue that these same techniques and approaches are need by all children. Ms. Lerman writes that adults need to recognize that children with trauma are “just trying to survive.”
They need: “relationships built on trust; patience and flexible expectations; help solving problems instead of rewards and consequences.” She reminds us that children who have experienced trauma often don’t emotionally function at their chronological age. Most of all, adults should have “hope and optimism” when working with these, and really all, children. When four out of 10 children have experienced some form of trauma, this means our classrooms are full of children who need an extra hand and a lot of love.
Be THAT educator. Be THAT mentor. Be THAT influence. Impact a child’s life in ways you never imagined. The world will be a better place for your effort.
Jessica Hayes is the director of The Montessori School of Fort Smith. Her column, Education Today, runs the second Friday of each month. E-mail email@example.com or tweet @fsmontessori.