First grade: Mrs. Murray
Second grade: Mrs. Hampton
Third grade: Mr. Winston
Fourth grade: Mrs. Tarquinto
Fifth grade: Miss Mancuso
I could go on and on recalling the names of my teachers throughout my school days. They are vividly etched in my mind's eye. Those educators who had a hand in the person I would one day become. They wholeheartedly wanted for their students what every teacher wants: that they learn far more than what was ever written in a textbook.
Yes, I remember my times tables and long division problems and the stories of my assigned reading group. But mostly I remember the climate and tone of the classroom. The aroma of encouragement and inspiration that filled the air. There was a healthy combination of challenge, competition and community that made up my childhood classrooms.
Today, I am a teacher. A teacher who can't simply teach the pages of a textbook or teach to "The Test." I am compelled to do more, to give more, to be more for every student I meet each day. I must to go beyond what's required of me and teach to the heart and soul of each student. I hold the future in my hands. Future neurosurgeons, lawyers, scientists, preachers, inventors, and - hopefully - teachers sit before me.
Any teacher will admit that teaching reading, writing, and math is the easier part of education. The true challenge of teaching is reaching students where they are and bringing them to love, respect, and be kind to themselves and others. As a teacher, I must make sure that I influence my students in a positive way. My impact extends further than I can ever imagine.
Once, while I assigned to jury duty, I meet up with Rodney Welsh. "Hi Mrs. Smith, remember me?" As I look into his eyes I remember the little boy who sat in the third row, fourth seat. Now his adult, manly face lights up as we chat outside the Atlantic County Court House. He is studying criminal justice at Richard Stockton College.
He is articulate and polite. I am delighted at his enthusiasm as he tells me about his ambitions and dreams. Rodney has strong opinions on various social issues. He tells me how devoted he is to changing the injustices of the world. My eyes tear up as we say good-bye and Rodney walks off determined, with great purpose.
On another occasion, a greeting in a supermarket stops me. "Mrs. Smith, Hi. It's me, Tyree." Yes it is. It's Tyree Malcolm from my third-grade class. At 24 years old, he is tall and handsome. He has an adorable infant daughter and a beautiful wife. He cuddles his daughter in his arms.
He dotes on his little girl while introducing me to his wife. Beaming, he catches me up on his life since third grade. Tyree is happy, playful and positive. He's proud. And I'm proud of him.
Then, one Saturday afternoon, my children convince me that they can't possibly live without a McDonald's lunch. Alicia Frazier, a former second-grade student, is ready to take my order. As I come to the drive through window, she's not surprised to see me. She has recognized my voice over the intercom. "I just knew it was you," she says. "I remember your voice!" She smiles broadly and tells me she is working part time and taking classes at Atlantic Community College. Alicia is a confident, radiant young woman. I am humbled that I even had the privilege to teach her.
I believe teaching is more than having my students saturated with book knowledge or preparing them to take a standardized test. It is about the whole core of me to the whole core of them.
Heading back to school this year, I am sobered by the weight of responsibility I carry as a teacher. Yes, I will educate my students in their intellectual lessons with professional diligence and competence.
But sorry folks, I can't simply teach what's in the pages of a textbook. I must equip my students with a sense of responsibility to their community, courage to make the right decisions and an unwavering moral consciousness. I must gently nudge and guide them forward into adulthood. Then, just maybe, I will consider myself a "highly qualified" teacher.
Roseann Smith, of Brigantine, teaches reading recovery at Sovereign Avenue School in Atlantic City.
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