Mrs. Nancy Reed was my favorite high school teacher. Though I’m sure she had some fabulous lessons, there is one lesson I remember from her class most. It was in the last week of school. This last lesson was different from her other lessons and from other teachers in the school, who were mostly showing movies or playing games.
We didn’t write, we didn’t read, we didn’t watch a movie, and we didn’t play any games that day. We only sat and listened as she told us a story. A story of a young girl who fell in love with her high school sweetheart. Soon after graduation, she married. While she had thought of going to college, she decided against it. And why would she need to go to school? She had her dear husband to care for her and her two babies who came along soon after their wedding day. Unfortunately, a terrible illness soon took her husband away. She was left with two young children and no education or skills to care for them. So, she went back to school; all while working and raising her babies on her own. Eventually, she did remarry and had four more children with her new husband. She implored us to continue our education. She told us that we never knew what might happen in our lives. I left that room determined to get my degree and I did. Despite my own young marriage and the obstacles of my husband losing his job only a month after we were married and despite him also going to school I persisted and got my degree.
So why, all these years later, do I remember the story Mrs. Reed told me? Is it because she told me of the importance of attending college? I don’t think so. I believe that the reason I remember Mrs. Reed, and the reason that her story had such a profound effect on me, is that I felt something. She opened her heart to share her feelings and made all of her students feel important. We felt that she had let us in on a secret, intimate part of her life and we could all feel her caring, concern, and love for us that day.
My theory of why I remember this story, so many years later is backed by a survey done by Edutopia. In this survey, over 700 parents, teachers, and students cited many reasons for the effect that their teachers had on them throughout the years (and not one of them had to do with punctuation, the quadratic equation, or the war of 1812).
These people cited reasons such as feeling safe in the classroom, feeling loved, being pushed to their greatest capacity, their teacher expressing a contagious passion for learning, and their teacher modeling patience and positivity as reasons they deemed those teachers great teachers.
These days if you listen to the news or other reports about education you will hear a lot of about testing, accountability, and curriculum. Ask a district official or administrator what makes a good teacher, and you might get answers such as ‘they move their students at least one grade level per year’ or ‘they collaborate effectively with colleagues’ or ‘they have impeccable classroom management’ or ‘they are very organized.’
All of these are certainly commendable and important aspects of being a teacher, but one, overall, according to survey participants is leaps and bounds above test scores, homework, or fun activities, and that one aspect is love. When students feel loved they want to come to school. When they feel loved they want to learn. When they feel loved, they believe in themselves. They feel good about themselves.
They say that love conquers all. Well, in the classroom it truly does.
So thank you Mrs. Reed, and thank you to all the other teachers who work tirelessly day in and day out to not only teach their students to read, write, and think but also to help them feel loved, love learning, and believe in themselves.
Amy Curletto has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.