The 10-year-old boy played ukulele for his school’s fifth- and sixth-grade choir. Unfortunately, the young child didn’t like the teacher. One day the choir students were being a bit unruly, and a great deal of talking and laughter filled the air. Finally, the exasperated teacher blurted out, “If anyone here doesn’t want me to be the choir director, just raise your hand, and I’ll find someone else. Otherwise, get quiet and listen up.” Before she was through with the sentence, the young boy’s arm shot up like a rocket.
The next second I was kicked out of choir as a stunned gallery of wide-eyed, open-mouthed classmates silently watched. I was readmitted several days later after my parents had a conversation with her (about being careful what you ask since you may get a truthful answer) and me (about not always acting on every thought that crosses my mind). In recollection, the conversation with me took a decidedly more forceful tone than the one with her.
Not all my experiences with teachers turned out very well. My mouth got me into trouble more often than not – as if you couldn’t have guessed that by the previous illustration.
Mrs. G was one particular educator who didn’t like me very much. The elementary school instructor would grab my face with her hand and squeeze both sides where the jaw hinges, violently shaking my head as hard as she could. All the while she would be screeching at me, “Shut your mouth young man.” If only I were a kid today, I might be able to get rich off the lawsuits over my encounters with her.
Then there was my friend whose father was my sixth-grade math teacher. Truth told – we shouldn’t have put itching powder down the back of our classmate’s shirt (completely unacceptable); neither he nor his father was happy with a few of us over that one. Report cards at the time included the following ratings: C – commendable; G – good; and N – needs improvement. When I brought home a G in math class, my parents were very perplexed. After all, I generally made 95s and 100s on all my assignments in the subject that was a natural for me.
A visit to the teacher got my grade changed to reflect the actual average score I had attained in the class. A serious discussion between my parents and me as well as my backside got at the truth.
You may have surmised that I generally received top grades for my academic work back in those years; however, I always earned lower marks for classroom behavior. Today, Ritalin probably would have been strongly recommended, very strongly.
As I progressed academically, the troubles continued. During my seventh-grade year, I wore a path from class to the principal’s and coaches’ offices where a large wooden paddle had a conversation with my hind end on a much too frequent schedule because of the occasional fights and regular classroom disruptions.
A few years later I was in high school band rehearsal when the teacher said, “Harrington, there isn’t anything in this world bigger than your mouth.”
Once again, I quickly replied to the overweight maestro, “But your gut.”
A stunned gallery of wide-eyed, open-mouthed classmates nearly died laughing, and I was asked to stay after rehearsal. If only I had learned from my first musical lesson things wouldn’t have gone so poorly that afternoon.
Bored from the work, which often came too easy, I would sleep, talk, or act out in class. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, I wasn’t the easiest student with whom to work.
Many teachers didn’t try, but a few never gave up on me.
Sixth-grade teacher Mrs. Ratcliff didn’t. She just hugged my neck every time she saw me outside of school, offering encouraging words in the years ahead. Out of respect, I didn’t talk as much in her class.
Then there was Richard Watkins. He taught me to sing. Like many other students in his choirs, I was drawn in by his demand for and pursuit of excellence. It had a lot to do with his intensity, passion for music, desire to see his students excel, and caring dedication to us.
I’ll never forget a few English teachers who looked past my quirks and idiosyncrasies to help light a passion within me for the written word while building a kind and considerate relationship with me.
Mr. Crawford is another educator I fondly recall. While at Texas A&M University during my freshman year, I experienced some health issues and missed every day between two exams. Despite having some 150 students in each of his five chemistry classes, the young professor met me at 10 o’clock one night to tutor me for, as he put it, “as long as it takes.” I aced that test because he cared enough for me.
Then there was Boo Heflin, a professor at seminary. Truth told – I didn’t like many of my instructors there. In fact, I wondered if some of them were even Christians, but he was different. During a time when the Southern Baptist Convention was in turmoil and there were accusations of indoctrination as opposed to teaching, Dr. Heflin expanded our minds. He presented the pros and cons of different interpretations of Old Testament scriptures and let us think for ourselves. The learned professor defended his students against his own biases. Boo trusted us – and God – enough to open up our hearts and minds to the possibilities instead of shutting down paths of knowledge.
There was another true treasure at seminary – Bud Fray, who previously had served as a missionary in Africa. His gentle nature, deep reverence for God, passion for scripture, and love for others was quite evident. He, too, knew how to build lasting relationships.
Fortunately, there are some great teachers in this world who love and treasure kids, and I want to encourage all of the educators out there to look for the potential in each and every child, even those difficult ones like me.
As a society, we don’t say it often enough, but you are valued. What we are as adults is – in a very large part – attributable to the selfless educators who stand before us and teach.
Those we remember most fondly target both our hearts and minds. They are passionate, knowledgeable, thoughtful, and – most especially – care deeply for their charges, forging relationships even when we are difficult and challenging to teach and love. Those kinds of educators leave a positive and permanent mark on the hearts of pupils who pass through their classrooms looking to a find a special place in this world that offers a brighter future.
Make no mistake about it, we will remember you long after we have left your classroom – how is up to you.
With that in mind, this month I will be praying for the seasoned educators who are returning to their classrooms as well as those first-year teachers just starting out on their journey. It’s the least I can do for all the troubles I caused your kindred spirits in the past.
Have a fantastic year and be a difference-maker.
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