The Value of Teachers

“My mom and dad said I hafta pick who I wanna live with.”  The ten-year-old boy sobbed to his Grade 4 teacher, my mother.

Mrs. Doyle - Teacher - Retired 20 years in this photo.

Mom described the scene to me.  The youngster, usually full of enthusiasm, had been sitting with downcast eyes, not turning pages with the rest of the class.   While the others were engrossed in an exercise, she knelt down and quietly asked if he would stay a few minutes after school.  “I won’t keep you long, but I have a question to ask.”  Hesitantly, he nodded.

Once the classroom cleared, she asked him, “Is there something going on that you can talk about?”

Through choking sobs, mom learned that his parents were separating.  His father was moving to an apartment and they asked him to choose where he wanted to live.

“Can you imagine?”  Mom’s voice rose to a higher pitch, each word enunciated with the energy of an enraged advocate.  “The burden they have dropped on this youngster!  Do they really believe a child could possibly make such a threatening decision?  Choose between a mother and a father?”

She paced the kitchen unable to sit.  She shook her head and extended her arms out front, fingers formed into claws, “I’d like to take each of those parents by the ear and make them choose who was going to promise to never see that child again!  If that didn’t penetrate their selfish hearts, it might at least penetrate their thick skulls.”

“Wow…”  I didn’t know what to say.

“To top it all off, they probably don’t realize that most children automatically believe they caused their parents’ decision to separate.  A child’s universe spins on self-centeredness.  Children usually believe any negative outcome is their doing!  My gawd!”

“I’ll make you a coffee.  Just the way you like it.  I’ll add a glug of brandy.”  Serendipity surely motivated my decision to visit my mother after work.

Mom disappeared while I put the kettle on.  As the water boiled, I found the ceramic, two-cup mug that she favoured.  I half-filled the mug with milk, added a healthy measure of brandy and measured two heaping teaspoons of instant coffee.   As I poured the boiling water, she returned and sat at the kitchen table.  After taking an approving sip of the coffee, she wrapped both hands around the warm mug and said, “Ah…God bless Brazil!”

‘God’, I thought, ‘right now the brandy’s just as important as Brazil.  Just bless it all….’

“So, Mom, what did you say to this little guy?”

“Well, as a teacher, I had to be careful. First I assured him that adults make these kinds of decisions and it has nothing to do with the children – what they have done or not done.   I gave him the chance to speak his feelings.  I reassured him that his feelings were completely valid…that what he felt was important.”

“You mean he made a decision?”

“He made a decision, but not a choice.  He was upset because choosing one parent would mean hurting the other.  He wants to be with both.  He wants them to stay together.”

“But that won’t change the parents’ decision,” I said.

“No, but he said he would tell his parents what he told me.  I trust that his honesty will encourage them to reconsider how they arrange the separation details.”

Weeks later, I asked Mom if she knew the outcome of this dilemma.

“Yes, his mother came to see me.  They worked out a much better plan, in my opinion, and then discussed it with their son.  They all agreed this would be a trial approach, but they would do it for the duration of the school year.  The husband has moved into an apartment and his son can visit on weekends.  The lad is okay with the plan.  He did not have to make the decision to stay with his mom and it means he still has his own room and all his school friends.”

“Were you scared when you knew his mother wanted to see you?”

“I hoped it was because she was a diligent parent.  I wasn’t disappointed.”

Thanks to my blogger friend, Poch, at Plato On-line, I learned that The New York Times presented an article about the value of teachers.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/12/opinion/kristof-the-value-of-teachers.html?_r=2    The article claims that quality teachers can raise the earning power of people.

I’d far rather consider how it raises the quality power of people.

Listening to anyone describing their favourite teacher means hearing a story that includes at least one profound lesson of threaded backbone-building significance.  The teacher who lives in my heart repeatedly gave me the joy of discovery over the doldrums of pedagogy.   She profoundly affected my approach to managing, facilitating and sharing life with loved ones.

I hope that one little boy became a man who is unafraid to speak up and share the goodness that resides naturally in his heart.

I hope our planet contains enough quality teachers to incite that brand of courage.

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96 thoughts on “The Value of Teachers

  1. Hi,
    It is terrible what some parents put their children through without even realizing it a lot of the time. Thank goodness for people like your Mum who could see that something was wrong, and needed to be sorted out.

    Teachers play a very big role in our lives I feel, they are so very important to society, I was very lucky, out of all my schooling years, I only ever had 1 bad teacher.

    • My home was usually a landing pad for newer/younger teachers who were struggling in one way or another. I used to overhear some of the comments about helping to keep teaching standards high. I used to see teachers who put in tons of their own time just to help students.

    • I watched that video a couple of years ago, Nancy. On the subject of salaries, I used to have to negotiate teachers’ salaries. I never could understand why Canadian Teachers make so much more that their American counterparts. I guess I ought to say it’s strange how Canadian Teacher Unions managed to negotiate such superior salaries and benefits. Plus U.S.Teachers have some very scary working conditions compared to our High Schools.

  2. Your mom might have even saved the life of that boy Amy. I know a very famous celebrity who killed himself at 27. The psychologist who studied his suicide notes said he blamed himself for the divorce of his parents and never got over that.

    • You know, Poch, I am amazed what children take on as their fault. It’s horrific. I hear often how people, in adulthood, are still carrying guilt, blame and shame from childhood. Yike. I’m sure grateful that I had the parents I had!

  3. The true value of teachers is sadly underestimated … especially the exceptional ones.

    Fortunate for this troubled boy he had a concerned interested teacher to confide in (wonderful gift from your mom) … I am sure he is not the only one she ministered to in such a caring fashion.

    I agree with your mom, it was/is a terrible position to put a young child … being a child of divorced parents is such a hard road!!

    Thank you for sharing your mom with us! 🙂

    • You are correct, Becca, this little fellow wasn’t the only one my mother helped. She’s been thanked many times and oddly enough, she would barely remember the times that people mentioned. We used to laugh because the memories that were most clear for her were the ones with kids who were the biggest handfuls.

  4. Morning Souldipper.
    I wish my son and DIL could have met your Mother.
    She would have sent them to the naughty corner.
    They met and married in the space of a couple of months and never gave their kids a chance to adjust.
    They are reaping the result of that decision!!!

    • Mom acted like a tyrant throughout September, the first month of school. Then, once the kids decided she was the Wicked Witch of the North, she was free to relax and be herself. She took creative corrective action…a stint in the corner would have been welcome! Aren’t hormones a wonder, Granny? I’m glad those kids have you. I hope they exercise their privilege to have you to tell their feelings.

  5. “threaded backbone-building confidence”
    So beautifully stated. So artfully told. Thank you for reminding me, it’s the small encouragements that have great repercussions.

    • Small encouragements with great impact…I agree, Barb. Your comment reminds me that at funerals or memorial services, we don’t hear about how much money the deceased spent or the jewelry they bought. It was about how that person made people feel!

  6. Yes, children always blame themselves for the mishaps in the family thread. Your mother was a wise and gracious woman. I had two fabulous teachers in school that I still maintain contact with today as they had a profound influence on my life. This is a lovely post, Amy.

    • Isn’t it neat that you still have contact with those two teachers, SuziCate? I wonder if they gained your respect for the same reason or if it was for two different reasons. I’d love to see my fav teacher! I’d give her my thanks by sharing examples of how I used her approach – putting a match to kindling under potential “aha moments”.

    • It’s funny, SDS, as a teen when friends came to my home and loved talking with Mom, I’d waver between being proud and miffed. I saw the value in my Mom, but she was so non-domestic that I would wonder if it would be better to have a mom who was too busy at home to chat with anyone.

      Today, I may still not love being in the kitchen, but I’m certainly grateful for all that she gave to my soul.

  7. Now days there is so much emphasis on ‘scores’ that many have forgotten the real contributions that teachers make…so much enjoyed this story about your mother….thanks for sharing.

    • Yes, Charles, and that’s why teachers in our province negotiate strenuously for smaller class sizes. The teachers who really are quality give so much of themselves. I once saw a High School teacher (a neighbour of mine), in a very small town, leave his home at midnight and walk to the High School to get lessons together for his students. The teachers were on a work-to-rule stint. He was willing to sneak into his classroom and risk the wrath of the Union to make sure his students would not fall behind.

      As the Secretary Treasurer, I felt the “fetters of nonsense” when I couldn’t shake his hand and tell him I saw his integrity and concern. If I had done so, it would have made him very uncomfortable. If I ran into him now, I’d certainly do it! 😀

  8. I was a teacher and i know exactly what you are saying, I was also a mother and saw a teacher change one of my sons from a naughty wee boy into a responsible teenager, the change was phenomenal. It is a wonderful profession! Once someone said to me you teachers should be paid millions for what you do. No I said.. then people would do it for the money. Not just anyone can be a teacher! c

    • You are a teacher?! That explains a lot, Celi. Your blog is so much fun. Visiting you is like sitting at your kitchen table with a cuppa.

      Yes, then there’s the gratitude that parents can have for teachers! That’s another level! I remember hearing parents thanking my mom, but as a financial administrator in school districts, I would seldom hear compliments from parents. Parental came to Board Meetings to complain. I hope teachers hear more thanks directly from parents. Good for your son for recognizing the value of listening to a person of quality.

    • As Charles (SLPMartin) said, as more focus is placed on scores and standings, the human element can suffer. I was in educational admin when physical contact with a student become a no-no. I listened to both teaching and non-teaching staff talk about losses that result when a teacher cannot put an arm around a hurting child. I saw the tears in the eyes of the Maintenance Manager who was like Santa Claus to the kids in the far North. “How can I reject those children?” he asked. He’d arrive at a school with his truck loaded with supplies and new things for the school. The kids would race to greet him, throw their arms around his legs and want to hang off his arms!

  9. As a retired professor, I’ve had the opportunity to affect students’s lives in profound ways (I know because they’ve returned and told me). This story makes me miss my profession that I loved so much. Thank you for sharing it.

    I often hear, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Maybe those people never had teachers like your mother. It takes a special type of person to be a mentor, instructor, and guide.

    • Lorna, I really don’t appreciate that statement. Teachers have told me they believe that society sees them as the low end of the ladder. I was shocked. In my world, teachers were respected and participants of a revered and valued profession. They told me the perception is that they couldn’t get into any other field so they took education. What a stigma to carry! Who wants to have to break down walls in order to follow a chosen field or perhaps a passion?

      That quote (yes, I’ve heard it often in business, too…applied to training departments) unfairly perpetuates this negative, unwarranted and unfair attitude.

      When people say that, we could suggest they go to some inner city schools and simply be a teacher’s helper for a period of time.

  10. A Teachers salary isn’t why they work any more than why nurses work. It runs much deeper. And so you see.

    I bet that young man will still remember his teacher when he is an adult. And the teacher can rest knowing she did right by him. 🙂

  11. I’m deeply grateful for your words today, Amy.I’m a teacher and the government here are constraining us more than every before. I feel a little bereft without the freedom I need to teach these children lovingly and well. How you knew to post this, today, who knows. But Thank you.

  12. This was a lovely post. The dialogue carried me along as if I were in your hip pocket.

    I wonder how many children have grown to adulthood guided more by teachers than by their parents. And yet we bicker over teacher salaries and, here in the States, we even bicker over quality school building design and teaching supplies. these kids that we are trying to scrimp on will be the decision makers of the future world.There could be no more crucial profession than that of teacher, especially elementary school teachers. It is at our own peril that we devalue them. We are fortunate that people exist who continue to give so generously to the next generation in spite of the lack of respect that they recieve from the public.

    • Many presentations I heard from the Public at Board Meetings (20 years of them!)were requests for Education to fix community problems – social, disciplinary, and economic issues. The partnership with parents would fall off its fulcrum with some of the demands. Teachers quietly step up to the plate in many ways the public never sees, in ways that are part of the heart, not their contract. Yet, as you said, the other part of the Public protest budgetary items such as supplies for programs that can attract students like bees to honey and do wonders for their development – e.g. music, drama, sports, Alternative programs, lunch programs.

      As a society, we revere people with lots of money…we put them on pedestals. Perhaps to give teachers more respect, we need to pay them $150,000/$200,000. per year. The public could then be assured teachers have a position of superiority – especially if they drove BMWs and Mercedes. Surely that would all lend credibility to what they do!

      Yike!! Aren’t we a confused lot?

    • Hi Abed, from Indonesia. After checking your blog, I’m accepting your visit on the basis of you being a young man working hard to start a business. I wish you the utmost of success.

    • Thank you, Joss. After this post, I’m missing my mom like crazy. Although I often sense her presence, I’d love to hear her voice again. In this age of technology, it’s hard to imagine that I have no video, no tape recording and no disc with her voice on it. She and I used to make tapes and send back and forth – feeling very tekkie – but I never kept even one. We recorded on tapes over and over so that audio is long gone.

  13. Bravo – wonderful story. Teachers really do have an awesome responsibility with their students. It’s a shame that most are not like your mother – they are qualified to teach but where is the human element? The heart/soul?

    • One of the things we can do to make sure heart and soul are still active and well is to stop turning educators into form-fillers, record-keepers and score-punchers. As in every field, there are those who just do the job and that’s all, but given a hurting child, I trust there’d be a step taken to investigate.

  14. Ahh, we went through this just this September! I remember we proudly announced to L (after he’d lived with me for 11 yrs and then with his Dad for 6 months), that he could decide who he wanted to live with… It took a couple days before I realized that we’d gifted him a burden, not a privilege.
    We ended up working out a shared custody deal that seems ok with everyone, and I think the best part of it is that I don’t even remember whose idea it was 😉
    One wonderful result is that L has learned that HE can call a family conference when he wants to hear both sides of something at once – and that was HIS idea!
    Truly invested teachers are one of the most precious resources in this planet. Fortunately, at L’s new school we’ve found several. Please thank your Mom for me!

    • Wow, Leslee, thank goodness you realized the situation. Imagine L. requesting the significant conference discussion. Seems you are raising one fine young man! I wonder how you will feel suddenly having time all to yourself.

      My mom would be 104 this year if she’d lived past her 96th year. But I believe our gratitude carries on beyond our limited spheres of consciousness. So your thanks is appreciated!

      • Thanks, Amy, and you’re so fortunate to have had your Mom!
        I often hear that I’m a great Mom, but what most people don’t see is that L is an amazing being, and all I have to do is sit and listen – he guides me into parenting! So I really give him all the credit 😀
        I have to admit it’s been a delight to have more time to myself, but thank goodness for generous mobile minute plans! Sometimes it’s really hard to go 4 days without seeing him… Lots of love to you for your wonderful posts!

        • There is an incredible spiritual document called the Law of One. Whether it is all it claims, I don’t judge. I do know that it contains concepts about Love that pushes my joy button. It claims that we are to pay close attention to people of special needs. They have been sent to us to teach us the kind of Love that is real. At first, I thought that would mean that I would learn a lot about being loving, patient and all that. Apparently not…it means they are the demonstrators and examples of true Love.

          Now that I can believe!

  15. I have two favourite teachers. One gave me the love for exploration and attempting. The other strengthened me with the awareness of a possible failure and the subsequent second chance. I feel lucky.

    This post means more to me than I can say right now, Amy. For now, all I’ll say is ditto as William Lawson.

    • Hello my welcome friend. Thanks for coming by and giving your unique brand of comment. Often when you comment, I wish there was a post about what is behind your words. I see about three posts in this one! 😀

  16. What a beautiful post and tribute to your mother Amy…you and all her students were blessed to have had such a beautiful, caring and wise light and heart to guide and help you all…:)

    God Bless…

  17. Having lived with a teacher for well over 30 years, I heard many heart wrenching stories and noted the emotional struggles that ensued for Jim. What I realized is that teachers are so emotionally invested in the work they do and that the children do value that investment. Now in the social media age, I have been struck by how many students have connected with Jim and how many speak of their year with Jim as their best school year ever. That investment comes back many times over. Thanks for sharing this heartwarming story.

  18. Hi Amy .. what a great line to take – and also for me to learn .. as a way to go. Talking to the elderly at the end of their lives .. is similar – except there is no-one and there is nowhere to go … it is extremely sad …

    .. giving them something – even a conversation everyday, a smile all the time .. and compassion from the heart can help ..

    … a story for something different to think about ..

    Great value – absolutely .. cheers Hilary

    • So true, Hilary, the elderly appreciate the gift of someone’s time more than anything else.

      I hope you don’t mind if I add something from my experience – our elders do still have somewhere to go – the inner journey is full of riches. My residents enjoyed talking about what they believe. NOT religious discussions, but philosophical. It was a taste of intimacy for which we all long. Each one would move into the spiritual as far as they felt comfortable, but inevitably they wanted to pick up on it in subsequent visits.

  19. Hi Amy – yes thanks for that … we probably have one now who has that ability .. the others not so. And it’s watching my words as to their future – they want to go home .. and that encouragement needs to a point to be tempered.

    I do two group sessions – so it’s who comes along and I never know – some talk, some probably should be downstairs in the dementia unit, and some are quiet, some aren’t so bright … so I’m slightly like a puppet master – making sure all the characters have their go and say – and giving them something relevant to them to think about.

    I’m not qualified to do more – with my uncle and with my mother probably .. but in fact it’s not really come up – he has gone and that happened quite quickly and events overtook me. My mother has talked to a couple of people – but doesn’t open up to me – she will talk to Janice (our helper-therapist of 4 years) and has in the past talked to a priest – but he’s retired. We have priests visit very often … and a lay reader – they say prayers over and for her and us.

    If I was in a position to do more – time wise .. then that would be different perhaps … I have started visiting 10+ in their rooms over and above all else – just to say hello and call in even if brief, and it is.

    Most importantly ensuring they feel they are part of a team/at home and can mix in with each other .. the group sessions at least open that door.

    Thanks .. it’s an interesting arena to be a part of … I try and match their needs with thoughts etc and get them to laugh and be cheerful … I do what I can .. cheers for now – Hilary

    • You do a lot, Hilary, and your presence would mean a great deal to even the silent ones. I wonder how on earth you manage it all!

      We had a very short man who would complain about how we drove our cars if he had a chance to see us in action. He’s still there, still finding things to mumble and grumble about. One time I sided with him on a rather major issue that had happened in his Pod. He saw injustice and had a point. I was his best buddy – for about two days. Then it was back to picking everything apart. Hope you find it easy to maintain humour with the grouches and chronic critics. They need someone to focus on! 😀

  20. As a fully-qualified teacher who is fortunate enough to be working on a part-time basis (by choice… after having taught 20 years full time…), I can identify…
    A brilliant post…

  21. Day in, day out I get the privilege of teaching……and no, it’s not maths or english. But teach, I do. And it truly is a privilege.

    There is no greater opportunity for me than to be allowed a chance to make a difference in the life of a child.

    I’m so envious you had such a loving, wonderful, passionate, gifted mom. She passed on some powerful things to you.
    She taught you well…..and loved you wonderfully.

  22. I wonder how many students realize how much your Mum did for them? I love your comment to SDS that when friends came to the house “you’d waver between being proud and miffed” of your mum.
    She would be so proud to see the beautiful post you’ve written here.

    • Whenever I used to pass on comments from others about her, she’d gently blow them off. Here’s how I see it, Rosie…if she’d been a cup of water and recognition was a teaspoon of sugar, it would have had impact. But, the way I saw her, she was like a river.

  23. What a beautiful post! My mother was a teacher. And I can say proudly what little good things are there in me, all due to my mom and her lessons on how to approach life. From my child hood days my mom told me that, ” to be happy with whatever I have and to bring that much credibility in me, so that I can get whatever I need.” One of the most important think i learned from my mom, which is still helping me in life is, “if I commit some kind of mistake and I may get punished for that; still I need to say the truth that yes I did it and I am sorry for that. Speaking truth is the best solution to lots of problems in life”.

    • Aha, Arindam, you also were blessed with a wise mother. Do you remember – “To thine own self be true…” written by wise ol’ Shakespeare? He goes on to say that like the night follows day, you cannot therefore be false to anyone. Truth is freedom – to oneself and to others. Our souls cannot flourish otherwise. A pocketbook may bulge, but the soul withers.

  24. I so enjoy stories about your Mother, Amy! This one is so pertinent to today that it is almost sad. I hope tons of people read this message and think twice about what they may be putting their children through.

    • Thanks, Leslie. I’ve shared my mother’s wisdom throughout my life and I actually hear it back from some of my friends. I’ve gone through a divorce and cannot imagine having to deal with the effect it would have on the children.

  25. Amy, what a beautiful blog, I did enjoy it so much and needed it today. It’s an incredible tribute to your Mom and to teachers. Hopefully parents out there will read this and be aware of what they are putting their children through. So much to be learned from your blogs, thank you

  26. This was a compassionate approach she took — a very human one — beyond a teacher’s job description. It’s like she was a mediator here, helping folk who were not in a position to be objective about a decision that had their emotions in disarray.

    This was a heavy decision to put on this child’s shoulders; one the parent’s were obviously not aware of. It looks like in this triangle, no one wanted to hurt the other. This young boy was lucky to have someone who was willing to listen and support him.

    • You say it so well, Davina. The depth of feeling that child must have felt goes beyond my ability to comprehend. I would have been sitting in that classroom doing more than staring off into the distance – unless I was in shock.

  27. That’s a great article Amy. Your Mom sounds like an amazing person — that little boy was very lucky to have her in his corner. Sad to say from my experience working in a school that parents haven’t gotten much better when it comes to the terrible choices they inflict upon their children. Some of the stuff i see and hear. . .

    • Kathy, my heart goes out to you – big time. It must be many times worse for you as an employee and a parent who may hear about it when the damage is already done. That would be heart breaking!

  28. That was a gr8 article….. 🙂
    My high school English teacher used to say “God helps people those who help themselves”. These words remain in my heart for ever.
    A teacher plays a very important role in our lives, many won’t bother to look back to them. Thanks a lot for making us realize the value of a teacher 🙂

    Pramodh,
    Bangalore, India

      • I am soo happy that you read it 🙂 I have written one more, which is completely my imagination this time, “Looking at the Lighthouse”. It has given me lot of excitement while writing and lot of satisfaction after writing. Pls have a look 🙂

        • Yes, Pram, I did read your story. It is very meaningful – especially since I live on the Coast. Life is like being on the ocean and does require us to remember the “lighthouse” no matter the storm. Great analogy, Pram.

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