Blessed is the influence of one true loving human soul on another.
These words by George Eliot epitomize my teaching life. I believe each teacher is a loving human soul who has a tremendous influence on the lives of her or his students. I don't recall when I first came across these words, but they left a lasting impression on me. I think I probably happened upon them some day during my teaching career when I was utterly down. You know those days when you feel like your students didn't understand or care about a thing you said? These words reminded me that there was probably one student whom I did have an influence upon, and in truth, we may be that one truly loving human soul who affects the life of one other human being. And that is enough. It is more than many people ever experience.
Today, I rode my bike to school an entire two blocks and I happened to come up behind Mr. Haden, the 8th grade science teacher. I said, "Hey, Ron, it's the beginning of my 18th year of teaching here at Aurora. What year is it for you?" I really had no idea. "This is my 30th year." I just about wrecked my bike. I have known Ron for 18 years. We share a love of stars. He lives down the block. He coaches cross country. He is out early in the mornings like me; he runs, and I ride my bike to the fitness center to run on a treadmill (my shins and concrete do not like each other). But I had no idea he had been teaching here for 30 years. That is the beauty of teaching in Aurora. Most people stay for a very long time. We like it here. I have seen a lot of very good teachers stay here well ove r 30 years and retire here. We are all invested in this community.
So, I have been fortunate to teach juniors and seniors over the course of my career, finding my way through No Child Left Behind and standards to preparing curriculum for Wesleyan Honors Academy courses. I spent many years directing the three act fall play and the one act and coaching speech. Thankfully, after six years, I was able to just focus on coaching the speech team. I really do enjoy working with students on the team because it wonderful to see them gain confidence as public speakers. It's also just a lot of fun to be with adolescents outside of the classroom. My speech team teaches me over and over again that each student is facing something in their lives. In the daily work of the school day it is easy to forget that.
In 2006, I received an Excellence in Teaching Award from the Nebraska Department of Education, and I wrote a "Where I'm From" poem to commemorate that occasion:
I am From: Teacher Version
(an imitation of George Ella Lyon's "Where I'm From")
I am from screaming at the top of my lungs to support a student participating in an athletic event.
I am from waking up when it's still dark on a Saturday during speech season and getting on a cold bus for a long trip to who knows where.
I am from Saturday nights at school grading essays while the football coach is in the next room compiling offensive, defensive and special teams statistics.
I am from nail-biting panic that my students won't memorize their lines for the fall play.
I am from standing backstage in awe when they do nail that line they missed for the past six weeks of rehearsal.
I am from finding the right words to say when a speech competitor doesn't make it to finals.
I am from the joy of a novice competitor who gets up on stage to receive a medal.
I am from young men telling me, confidentially, in their junior and senior years, “This is the first book I’ve ever read.”
I am from going off on a tangent in the classroom (and I do this often) for a spectacular learning moment.
I am from "Excellent," "Exceptional," exclamation points, question marks, triple underlined words, numerous editing marks, and sentences of response in the margins on student papers.
I am from sitting side by side a student and reading and writing and talking about the paper because they really care about writing well.
I am from fifteen years of tear drops on student papers, because each year, someone was depressed, someone was hurt deeply, or someone died.
I am from all the courageous students who have bravely shared their lives with me through their writing,
I am from the poignancy and splendor of their lives,
I am from over a thousand, truly loving human souls who have had
a lasting, a remarkable influence upon me.
Catherine Cave English
October 31, 2006