Every year, as the weather cools down here in Arizona, memories of my youth spark up. The crisp chill in the air brings me right back to the many years I spent living in Vermont where cold weather is the norm, not just a reprieve from the sweltering Phoenix heat. This year, my work at OneTeacher and a recent visit back east have me thinking specifically about the immense power teachers have and my gratitude for those special teachers who had a positive impact on me.
I grew up in a small town where teachers truly took on an expanded role. They became friends with students’ parents, took kids out to eat on the weekends, and as we got older, even let us drive their cars. The teachers who were “done” at 3 pm or “in it for the money” (ha!) were few and far between, and for obvious reasons, I don’t remember who they were. The rest truly loved their jobs, which was plain to see by the joy and creativity they exuded and the great relationships they built with their students. As a tween, my family suffered a terrible loss, and my teachers often filled in the gaps left by the death of my mom.
Barb was one of these teachers. She taught German and dance at my high school and always had a posse of students around her. She let us call her Barb (so cool), and she was both with-it and goofy. She held the bar high for her students and treated us like the young adults we were. In return, we gave her our utmost respect and didn’t mess around (much) in her classes so as not to disappoint her. She would often stay hours after school with students in her room, chatting about life and offering advice at a time when it was much needed. I once made my way to her room on a “bathroom break” from math because a teacher had snapped at me, and I was crying ugly frustration tears. If Barb had been working on something important, I never knew, as for those 10 minutes fixing me was her priority. It was a seemingly insignificant interaction that she probably doesn’t even remember, but it exemplifies the care and love so many of us felt from Barb.
When I became a teacher years later, I modeled myself after Barb 100%. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the role I wanted to play for my students was the one that she had played for me. I wanted to be cool, and dorky, and with-it enough to be respected. I wanted to be my kids’ “person” at school, that teacher they knew they could go to with anything. I wanted my relationship with my students to extend beyond my time as their teacher, as mine had with Barb.
Several weeks ago, I made the trek back to Vermont with my husband and young son. We stopped at my high school for the first time in years and made the rounds to see Barb, of course, and many other influential teachers who were still there almost 15 years later. We saw Mr. M who, despite never having actually been my teacher, had once sat with me for hours, sharing his expertise educator to educator, so that I could raise the bar for my students in Phoenix. Mr. C, my extra enthusiastic science teacher, who introduced me to his class by proudly proclaiming that “they hadn’t even been born yet” when I was his student. Ouch. Sue, my very first Spanish teacher; Dave, Barb’s husband who graciously shared his wife with us all those extra hours, and Mr. H, whose class projects gave me the freedom to think differently about literature, eventually allowing me to do the same for my students.
It was strange and wonderful to be back at my high school with my family in tow, introducing the folks who helped shape me in a thousand little ways to my husband and son. And not a whole lot seemed to have changed. Of course, the students look far younger than I ever did (I’ll refrain from a, “Is it just me or do these kids look like babies?!” mom joke here…) and Barb’s got a new posse, but she and the others who had such an impact on me are still having an impact on hundreds of kids year after year. That kind of stamina, that longevity–it makes me realize how important it is to love where you teach and the work that you do. Because for better or worse, influence comes with the title of teacher. It’s what you do with that influence that makes all the difference—I know it did for me.
Nina Tinsley is the Director of Operations and Outreach at OneTeacher and is pictured above with her son and Barb.
Stay tuned for upcoming blog entries, including quick tips, thoughts from our partners, and more stories about our own experiences as educators and professionals.