A couple months ago, a friend of mine and I were discussing our careers. A very successful Wall Street executive, he joked that he kept the world safe from undervalued IPOs. I retorted that most of my work never made it out of the laboratory.
Then I thought about meaningful careers and, of course, my thoughts went to teaching.
Let me ask all of you readers to stop, close your eyes for 60 seconds and think about your special teacher.
For me, it was my Kindergarten teacher. About 15 years ago she sought me out at a funeral and asked how I had done. I told her about my career and she smiled.
“I knew that you were special,” she said. “I knew that you would be successful.”
Admittedly I was different in Kindergarten, due to extended illnesses and an uncle determined to prove the capabilities of pre-school children, I arrived at Kindergarten reading at a high level (which was very, very unusual in my day).
As was one of the first women in my profession I endured daily sexual harassment, unequal treatment, downright abuse and exclusion…but I made it through it, because I believed in myself. Her conviction caused me to believe that this middle child from a family of 6 kids was special.
Another inspirational example was my daughter’s 2nd grade teacher.
It was a mixed blessing when I discovered that my daughter had been assigned the best teacher in the school because it was well known that his teacher also got the most challenging students. These were children growing up in dysfunctional homes, neglected, trained not to feel special.
As my work schedule permitted, I helped out in her classroom so that I could observe her class. Watching her class was magical. Children were engaged, smiling and kind to each other.
One day I noticed one of the more troubled children doing classwork during recess. After he finished, she effusively praised him and sent him out to join his classmates at recess. This child, who had not asked for his circumstances, left with a big smile on his face.
I praised the teacher and told her how wonderful my daughter was doing in her classroom.
She smiled. “I don’t know how it happens, but every year I get the best children. I don’t know how I am so lucky.”
I did a double-take and managed an “Are you sure, we’re talking about the same class?”
“Yes, it’s amazing, isn’t it?” She replied.
Trying to make her see “my reality”, I commented that the child I just observed must have misbehaved since he was missing recess.
She ignored my comment and continued enthusiastically. “I just love listening to his stories, he is so creative.”
In that moment I discovered her secret, why she was the best teacher in that school. She genuinely believed these were special children and since she believed it, they believed it, too.
For one year, each of those children was extraordinary. Maybe it would be enough for them to get through their hardships.
So May the 7th is Teacher Appreciation Day. But since these teachers are no longer around to thank, I am going to spend 60 seconds just remembering and thanking them. I hope that you can join me with your own memories.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.