When I was going into seventh grade, my family moved into an ugly farmhouse five miles from the nearest town. My brother and I dragged ourselves onto the bus before seven each morning, facing an hour-long ride to that barely-incorporated town for school. Six years later, I graduated with 41 others in “the big class.”
My previous school experiences had caused me to believe I was “stupid.” And at home, I was – to say the least – insecure because of difficult family situations. So I started at that tiny school as a very “fragile” young lady, lacking in all five of every child’s core needs. Yet, by the time I graduated, I’d been to multiple state-level music and speech competitions, had performed in a number of school plays, had a solid core of friends, and became the valedictorian of my class. I still had a ways to go in terms of my security and the other core needs, but I left that school a vastly different person than when I’d enrolled.
Sadly, my home life hadn’t changed. But I’d found myself in a school brimming with teachers who sought to make a difference in kids’ lives – academically and otherwise. And, in them, I found security.
Mr. B. showed me I could understand even difficult material. Mrs. J. and Miss H. nurtured my writing talents. Mr. I. encouraged me to think outside the box and applauded my diligence. Mrs. B. coached into me a confidence for public speaking and performing. Mr. G. provided spiritual guidance. And Miss C. was a surrogate mom. As my band director, she stretched me musically. But, beyond that, the band room was a haven – for me and other students who needed a place to go on a bad day or a place to celebrate something good. Miss C. was always there, always listening, gently guiding.
Truth be told, I believe it’s primarily a parent’s responsibility to build a foundation of security into his child; teachers should be free to focus on academic content. However, what is ideal is not always real. And today – even more than during our youth – young people desperately need teachers to shore them up in terms of security: to tell and show them that they matter, that they’re important and unique, and that they’re capable. If you’re a classroom teacher, that is, indeed, a huge component of your daily mission. Do you believe that? Are you doing it?