Those Who Teach

The girl was quiet. Sad. She didn’t try in class. She had no friends. She was a D-student, a poor reader, and a lost child.

She is older. Past retirement age. She stands in the Walmart checkout lane with a full cart. In her basket: Kleenex, paper towels, notebooks, number-two pencils, Scotch tape, staples. The works.

She teaches ninth grade. And she’s been doing this for thirty years.

That’s three decades of lesson plans, spitballs, my-Labrador-ate-my-homeworks, senior pranks, and pep-rallies. She is a living saint.

“When I was young,” she says. “Had this idea I was going to be a wonderful teacher and change the world.”

Her first year of teaching nearly killed her.

Ninth-graders are their own breed of domestic skunk. The children drained her youth and drove her toward a nervous breakdown.

“Almost gave up,” she says. “I actually wrote a letter of resignation after my first year. It was that bad.”

It was that bad. But she didn’t quit.

There was a girl in her class. The girl’s mother had died. She had no father. She was living with relatives.

The girl was quiet. Sad. She didn’t try in class. She had no friends. She was a D-student, a poor reader, and a lost child.

“I knew she needed me. So I told myself, ‘I’m gonna win this girl over if it’s the last thing I do.’”

She worked with the child after school hours. She ordered pizza delivery while they studied. She introduced the girl to the simple pleasures of Nancy Drew, and helped her with math homework.

She listened. Sometimes all she did was listen.

“That’s when I realized, maybe I’ll never change the world, but I can be a friend. I could show her I didn’t care about her grades as much as I cared about her.”

The girl’s grades improved. In fact, that year she made A’s in every subject. Her disposition got sweeter, too.

Her life was on the upswing. She dated her first boyfriend. She joined school clubs. She played in band.

And on the last day of class, the girl was sitting outside her teacher’s classroom, crying.

The girl told her, “I don’t wanna leave your class. I don’t wanna lose you like I lost my mom.”

So, they kept meeting every day after school. Through tenth grade. Eleventh. Twelfth. The girl traded her Nancy Drew novels for fatter books with big words. The math problems got harder. So did her brain muscles.

“We got her a scholarship,” said the venerable teacher. “Lemme tell ya, it was a big day when that happened. I locked myself in my room and cried.”

That was a lifetime ago. They still talk, but not as much.

Today, the girl is a married woman, a business owner, and she has a family. Her old teacher might be up in age, but she’s still as proud as she was decades ago.

“It’s bittersweet with kids,” the teacher goes on. “But that’s how it goes. I’m in their lives for a season. All I can do is love them.

“They don’t realize, once I love them, it’s forever, even after they leave and forget me.”

Thus, another school year begins. And she’ll be in her classroom, about to do what she set out to do a long time ago.

The same thing all teachers do.

Change the world.

41 comments

  1. Roxanne - August 4, 2017 12:20 pm

    We do love them forever. From a teacher, thank you.

    Reply
    • Elaine Davis - August 4, 2017 12:50 pm

      This touches my heart because it is so real. You give your heart and soul to your students and it last a lifetime. I’m forever blessed

      Reply
  2. Janette - August 4, 2017 12:23 pm

    Wow!! Another eye cleansing morning…..
    How beautiful ❤️

    Reply
  3. Lucretia - August 4, 2017 12:27 pm

    Tears to my eyes and heart, Sean. I’ve been there and am there. It is Bitter-Sweet. It is how the world is changed. May all the children, youth, and adults have such a teacher this new academic year. Thank you for the reminder.

    Reply
  4. Cathi Russell - August 4, 2017 12:30 pm

    Ugly cry. But needed. Thanks, Sean, I’m reading your books now & loving them. See you tomorrow.

    Reply
  5. Tracy - August 4, 2017 12:43 pm

    Tears in my eyes. Many stars in that lady’s crown. Lovely story…

    Reply
  6. Jean Moseley - August 4, 2017 1:01 pm

    Beautifully written, Sean

    Reply
  7. Kathy Daum - August 4, 2017 1:03 pm

    That’s a good one.

    Reply
  8. Marty from Alabama - August 4, 2017 1:14 pm

    Thank you. Today’s lesson hit home. My daughter teaches high school English. She had two teachers of English that inspired her. I’m not biased, but she is doing a great job, she knows her subject matter, she loves her kids, even those that try her patience. Mind you, she nor any other teachers, will become rich materially. Their riches come from young adults that see them and tell them they loved er classes – and then thank her. Can’t put a price tag on that.
    Thank you, Sean. You must have had a wonderful teacher along the way.

    Reply
  9. Pam - August 4, 2017 1:24 pm

    Thank you.

    Reply
  10. Bobbie - August 4, 2017 1:31 pm

    Thank you!

    Reply
  11. Joan - August 4, 2017 1:46 pm

    As a 40+ year teacher, thank you.

    It is the hardest job I have ever had [other than parenting] and I am still giving it my best every day…..

    Reply
  12. Anne Trawick - August 4, 2017 1:48 pm

    I am a retired teacher. It’s true. I teach them for a year, but they are my children forever. Thank you!

    Reply
  13. Jack Quanstrum - August 4, 2017 2:15 pm

    Amen! Amen! Amen! There’s not enough Amens in this world to communicate how beautiful this story is. But in Heaven there will be when this teacher receives the Crown of Life from Jesus. Thanks for sharing it Sean!

    Reply
  14. Melodie - August 4, 2017 2:19 pm

    Great story. I have a dear friend who is a retired English teacher. This story could be about her. She made a big impact on a lot of her students, and to this day, with grateful hearts, still hears from them. It definitely takes a special person to be a school teacher. Her beloved, departed, husband was also a teacher. From what I know, they were quite the team. Their ‘old’ students still speak highly, of both.

    Reply
    • Trudy :) - August 4, 2017 3:39 pm

      Thank you. I loved teaching and watching the dim bulb become brighter. Yes, some of the thousands of students I had have made contact and continue to involve me in their lives, ask advice, unload in faith and security that I will not judge them, and some even call me, “Mom 2”. They are each treasures in my treasure chest of life and they know that.

      I, too, write a blog. It is here: http://frommiperspective.blogspot.com/

      Reply
      • Melodie - August 6, 2017 1:26 am

        Teachers are the best! Thank you.

        Reply
  15. Jack Quanstrum - August 4, 2017 2:19 pm

    Amen! Amen! Amen! There is not enough Amens in this world to express what this teacher does. But there will be in Heaven when she receives the Crown of Life from Jesus. Thanks for sharing Sean.

    Reply
  16. Jo Brooks - August 4, 2017 2:25 pm

    True, true. I am retired after 40 years of teaching math. I loved my kids, and tried hard to reach them in a way that would make a difference in their lives, and not just their academic achievement. It was never an easy job, but always one I loved.

    Reply
  17. Denise - August 4, 2017 2:38 pm

    This was a piece that really hit home for me. I had a math teacher, Mrs. Claire Waller, who gave up her lunch break daily to help me understand Algebra. I had missed over a month of school when a cough turned to pneumonia and then double pneumonia. I was not only lagging behind academically when I returned, but the sheer effort it took to climb the stairs to the second floor to her classroom wore me out. She’d seen the look on bewilderment on my face when I hear other students saying things like, “…so x= -9” One day she told me to take a note to the cafeteria manager stating that I would be allowed to leave the lunchroom with my tray and report to her classroom. I was timid and uneasy with the one-on-one attention from a teacher, but a secretly thrilled and felt a bit important to eat sandwiches with her. Mrs. Waller was kind and loving. She praised me and even applauded when I could finally ask a question that indicated I understood what a negative number and variable are. Her work with paid off with a lifetime of math confidence and ability. From ninth grade to this day, math is my favorite subject. When I get stressed out, I solve complex math problems to calm me down. During my 23 years as a teacher, I have taught math to nearly 1,000 students. My students tell me that I have a way of explaining math concepts that just makes it click for them. It happened again this year (what I call the Claire Waller effect), just before recess each day, in a tiny classroom with a girl whose math awakening brought me to tears. Please comment if you’ve been, had or known a teacher like this.

    Reply
  18. Gayle Blake - August 4, 2017 3:08 pm

    We teach….we care…and then we start all over again each year…and we love almost every minute of it! Retired after 30 years, but teaching again in a different way.

    Reply
  19. Warren Callaway - August 4, 2017 3:31 pm

    Know all about that….my mom taught school for seventy five years….she
    told many stories …….she passed away May 29………

    Reply
  20. Sara Shepherd - August 4, 2017 4:03 pm

    Thank you. Teachers do not get the recognition that they deserve. There are a few who are bad apples as in most professions but, for the most part, teachers are in the classroom to teach, to love and, as you said, change the world. Without teachers there would be no other professions. Thank you.

    Reply
  21. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way - August 4, 2017 4:29 pm

    My first-grade teacher taught me English. I didn’t speak a word — I was five years old. By the time I started first grade with my own age group I was able to keep up and excel. We kept in touch as I got older and even switched schools. I never forgot her. Sister Louisa, I love you.

    Reply
  22. Trudy :) - August 4, 2017 5:02 pm

    We may not be able to change the world, but we can change the world of at least one student.
    Thank you, Sean, for this writing of today, 08/04/2017.

    Reply
  23. nan mcneill - August 4, 2017 6:08 pm

    I love stories like this Sean one. I had a teacher in 5th grade that had taught my mother. She was a wonderful lady. I don’t thinkI appreciated her then as much as I do now that I have been teaching 40+ years. Every year I learn to appreciate those that went before me and paved the way for we teachers of today. The thought of retirement and leaving the kids that need us is overwhelming. Some of them act like they don’t want to learn or want our help, but years later they come back and thank us … that makes our job wonderful.

    Reply
  24. Annette Bailey - August 4, 2017 7:07 pm

    I was a teacher for only 3 months. I was over the moon to get the job teaching PE to K-5 kids. It was life changing for me because I told Mrs. Branum in the third grade that I wanted to be a teacher like her. She told me to keep making good grades and Id reach that goal. And I did. But after the principal called me into his office one day, I thought I was in trouble. I was grown and a teacher, and was being called to the office. He had a somber face. He told me that the teacher I was filling in for would be needing her job back. I was told she wanted to retire with her third baby girl….but her husband fell 15 feet onto his back on the oil rig and she didn’t know if he’d ever be able to work again. She needed her job back. I cried all night. The next day the principal told the students that it was my last day and they began to cry….those children fell in love with me in three months and I’ll never forget that. I couldn’t get a teaching job in my small town so I became a pharmacist tech to help my husband count pills every day in our new drugstore…I even made more money. But that’s not what I was ever about. I wanted to make kids excited to play outside and get their bodies strong. I wish I could have taught for 5,10, 15 yrs. but it wasn’t meant to be, so I traded in my tennis shoes for taking elderly folks blood pressure or getting them what they need for healthy living. Either way, helping kids or the elderly warmed my heart. Thanks Sean for the memories of teaching. This teacher in your story made a difference in lives. I hope I did too. “

    Reply
    • Bobbie Andrews - August 4, 2017 9:42 pm

      Annette, I hope you can return to teaching. The students need you and you need them. There is a teacher shortage in many school districts and students need a teacher with your passion.

      Reply
  25. Linda - August 4, 2017 7:30 pm

    Thank you.

    Reply
  26. Wendy - August 4, 2017 7:40 pm

    As I may have said here before, my dear but now-departed mother, would have former students (all subjects grades 1 to 10) drop by to thank her for teaching them about geography…before they left for overseas in WWII. Her beautiful smile was compared to Doris Day’s. I like to believe that smile is still lighting up her eternal home.

    Reply
  27. Deborah Bundy - August 4, 2017 8:16 pm

    Sharing for all the teachers I had that made a difference, for all the teachers I know who are feeling overwhelmed, and for all the students who need someone in their lives to care. Thank you for this story.

    Reply
  28. Todd - August 4, 2017 11:25 pm

    Thank you Sean! That was beautiful! I am teaching my 28th year this year. The greatest reward is when one of my former students returns to let me know what a difference they feel like I made in their life. It is especially sweet when they bring along their spouse and children to introduce to me.

    Reply
  29. Leah - August 5, 2017 1:57 am

    Thank you from a teacher and I appreciate the reminder as a parent.

    Reply
  30. Janet Mary Lee - August 5, 2017 4:31 am

    Another post that is making me cry. Sean, you can wring water from a brick. I can just see that teacher, both her good days and her hard days. The story is dear to me. My two children are both teachers, and I am proud to say they are like her!! Always write, Sean!

    Reply
  31. Susan in Georgia - August 5, 2017 6:05 am

    Bravo to this teacher…and to all dedicated teachers. Thanks, Sean, for a fine story about this teacher’s heart and passion.

    Reply
  32. Virginia - August 5, 2017 12:06 pm

    Can we get you on Facebook?

    Reply
  33. Drucie Brown - August 5, 2017 2:47 pm

    My eleventh grade English teacher, Virginia Taylor, effectively paid for my college education. She did this by entering me in a national writing competition. A widow with children herself, she understood that my mother’s resources as a young widow with three children were stretched almost beyond managing. One junior could be entered to represent our high school, no more. I did my best for her and for Mama. The result was a full four-year scholarship to UA, room and board and all. A teaching fellowship paid for my M.A. in English, and I taught for almost thirty-eight years following. The Lord had His hand on me. I called her Mrs. Taylor.

    Reply
    • Kim Shelnutt - August 5, 2017 10:49 pm

      As a former teacher and the mom of a 4th year current teacher I appreciate the feelings and memories your story reminds us all of. Hopefully, we all had special teachers that stand out in our lives. Our children need them especially today. The reality is – we all remember and give credit to these amazing human beings that shaped and sometimes changed our world. The problem is in most school districts we are still paying them the same or less salary from 40 years ago. What other profession is so sadly behind the pay grid and yet so important??? Oh, it’s so noble to say you are doing it for the children and lives you will change… but when you are being paid nothing and using your own money to supply them paper, pencils & food for the weekend?? Yes, our daughter spent her own money at the dollar store to put cans of food in her class’s backpacks so they had a meal over the weekend. And she was not making enough money to support herself. This is happening all over America. How can we be Great if we can’t pay our teachers enough to live on? Or enough they still want to do this amazing, necessary and important job? We are not doing it now. Think about our current and future teachers of America….we need them and they need us.

      Reply
  34. Mary Jane Sepmeier - August 6, 2017 12:23 am

    Thank you, Sean, from my heart. My mother was a teacher. My daughter is a teacher. I just didn’t see what they both put into it, every day, for years on end, until you wrote this essay.
    You are so FIERCE!
    I just somehow discovered your blog yesterday – and you changed my world : )
    Wow.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  35. Sandra Staggs Flowers - August 6, 2017 7:22 pm

    I was a teacher. Your story set my mind whirling with sweet memories. Let me share one today about an eighth grader who never did his homework. He was smart and could pass most courses by just doing his classwork. But I taught English. Students had to set aside time outside of school for longer reading and writing passages. He did not. He was failing. I asked him to stay after school to let me help him. He began staying once a week. At first it was like putting a novel into him or getting a paragraph out of him one word at a time. We worked a little and talked a little each week. I learned he went home to an empty apartment where he often had no food and he always slept on the sofa. I learned his mother drank, sometimes so much she scared him. Doing homework required courage and hope. He had neither. Word by word, week by week, he grew stronger inside. I loved that young man. About six years later he was in front of me in the check out line of a Dollar General. I was holding a giant ballon in one hand and my granddaughter’s hand in the other. He smiled at me. Quickly, he said he was working, living with a friend, and going to a community college. He took the ballon from my hand and smiled at my little girl. “Here. Let me buy that for her.”

    Reply

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