The Value of a Good Teacher
About now, after an unexpectedly long spring break turned into a permanent one, a lot of parents have probably developed a new appreciation for their children’s teachers.
I know I have after recently hearing a story from author and speaker Stephen James during 33 The Series—a Christian manhood program.
During that day’s video segment, James discussed a couple he knew who emphasized success over significance.
Concerned their son become successful, they paid his way to a prestigious university.
Yet, the young man couldn’t decide what he wanted to do in life.
Then the light came on during a conference.
Afterwards, he told his parents he had decided what he wanted to do after college.
“What?” his father asked.
“I’m going to a be a fourth-grade teacher,” the son replied.
Asked the father: did we invest all this money so you could waste your life being a schoolteacher? The mother chimed in with a comment about not being able to afford granite countertops on a fourth-grade teacher’s salary.
Maybe this young man would never amount to much in the world’s definition of success. But the lives he would help mold would dramatically benefit society.
A Teacher, A Negative Influence
But James’ story hit a nerve, likely because my fourth-grade teacher made such an incredible difference in my life.
One reason: my third-grade teacher was such a negative influence. Looking back, I can only assume this woman lived a very unhappy existence.
That especially emerged during art instruction, held every Tuesday and Thursday.
Her definition of art was that her trembling students reproduce drawings exactly as she had done them.
One time, unable to grasp the finer points, I asked for help. In response, she growled and asked if I couldn’t see.
Another time, when my drawing fell short, she yanked my right ear—it felt like to the floor—and said, “Does that look like what I did?”
Today, that teacher would be arrested for child abuse.
She instilled such a dislike for art that during breaks a friend and I would doodle on returned homework papers with “art” in the middle of cannons or guns firing at the word.
A Bright Light
The next year, everything changed. Instead of walking around with a scowl, my fourth-grade teacher was kind and encouraging.
She smiled a lot and made me believe I could do great things. Especially when it came to art.
About halfway through the year, she informed the class of a poster contest sponsored by the public library. It had something to do with promoting reading (I hope libraries are still doing this).
I had read a book about folk hero Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe—whose statue stands today in Bemidji, Minnesota.
So, one night I decided to draw a poster of the pair. I think I used an illustration from the book as a guide.
Getting an oversized piece of poster paper, I drew a picture of the duo. Freehand. Colored it all in once I had finished.
That was the only time in my life I have been able to draw something other than a poorly-fashioned stick figure.
The payoff came when they announced the fourth-grade poster contest winners.
As I remember, a good friend of mine took first or second.
To my pleasant surprise, my poster won an award of merit.
It may have not been in the top three, but after my horrific third-grade experiences with art, an honorable mention felt like winning a foot-high trophy.
I remember the smile that crossed my fourth-grade teacher’s face when I saw her at the library the day they announced the winners.
She was a person of significance.