I remember the first day of school. It was always a bittersweet endeavor. I hated that the freedom of long summer nights was over, but I reveled in the joy of reconnecting with my best-friends day over day. My very best friend, Drew, always came to school the same way; head held high, shoulders back, and that beaming million dollar smile that never fades. He also possessed an infectious humor that could bend the stature of the most stoic of figure — he was hilarious — still is.
The one thing I never gave much thought to was the teachers. I mean, back then, that’s all they were — teachers — ranked by an arbitrary “good and bad.” And on any given day their position could, and likely would change within that brash rating system.
My sister is now a teacher, has been for some time. So is my neighbour. In recent years I have been given glimpses into just how hard teachers actually work, both on and off the clock. It seems to me that this truly is a profession of love, a calling, as it were.
Teachers face a bevy of criticism and judgements. Their profession is constantly covered by the media, but usually only to spin a narrative of some kind. They work tireless hours in critically understaffed positions, tools and supplies are in constant back order, or simply unavailable. They are greeted at times by vengeful parents, scornful tongues, angry eyes and apathetic ears. Yet, each morning, they rise anew to take up the mantle of scholastic responsibility, and while pushing aside their own stresses, their own worries and frets, they speak studiously, trying to mold distracted minds.
I’ll tell you what a teacher means to me, it’s something I’ve been thinking about over the last several days…
A teacher is… well… many things.
My mother didn’t teach me how to read. Neither did my abhorrent absentee father. On the occasions where my mother did attempt to guide me under her tutelage, it was typically at the kitchen table; an open book to a random page rested in front of me. I sat encircled by a steel haze of cigarette smoke. My eyes would sting. Sitting beside me, my mother breathed through pursed lips, glaring angrily at me. She was waiting for me to pronounce the word her finger was pointed to. But I couldn’t. I was knotted from the inside out, bound by ropes of angst and worry. I tried and I tried, but I just couldn’t read the word. I began guessing…
“T — T, huh… T…”
“THE!!!!!” Before I could continue, my mother leaned in toward my face, her shouted oration was laden in spit, nicotine and rage. She slapped the side of my face, an instant burn befell my ear, along with an ungodly ringing chiming from deep inside it. I cried immediately, but that only made her more resolute. I was sent to my room, accused of not trying hard enough.
While serving my bedroom prison sentence, I recited the word over and over in my mind, demanding to myself that I never forget it. I used it in sentences, I spelled it backwards, forwards, slowly, quickly, I did everything I could to commit to memory. To prove to my mum that I was not as she said, “so bloody stupid.”
After a while I heard the knob turn and my door burst open. Before my mother had a chance to say anything, I began to recite…
“The. The… THE! It’s The!!” I could feel the hint of a smile wanting to come to me. My mother spoke.
“Go to bed. I don’t want to see you for the rest of the night.”
Suddenly all I could feel was the pain in my ear, and the shame in my stomach. My mother never taught me to read — teachers did. They stayed late, they gave up recess and lunch, they helped me sound out vowels and consonants. Because of teachers, I found reprieve in storybooks and novels. I got lost on adventures with Nate the Grate. I solved mysteries with the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I learned of friendship and brotherhood as four friends traipsed along an old railway in search of a body (Stand by Me).
On those long nights spent in hospital when my mum got sick, reading helped the hands of the clock tick by.
A teacher is many things; but to me, perhaps most of all, a teacher is kind, patient, empathic, talented and comforting.
I remember the first day of school, for me, it was (and likely always will be) bittersweet.
To those that teach, thank you. Thank you for what you do. You inspire, and I promise you, you truly do make a difference.