Dear Mrs. Sandpearl, (to my fifth grade self Ms. Finder),
You are the Miss Honey to my Matilda, the Annie Sullivan to my Hellen Keller, the Caroline Duggan to my Keltic Dreams Bronx-school-kid dancing fifth grade self. I don’t pretend to be the exceptional powerhouses some of these students were, but I was a little girl growing up in a small town with big hopes and dreams.
That self, that ten-year-old girl, that geeky stretch pant wearing, terrible perm-frizzed hair and buck teeth sporting girl still exists. She is me. I am her. We are all our small selves. Grown and learning– we hope– but somehow still the same. Your impact is carried in me, with me to this very day.
I am not alone in this, Mrs. Sandpearl. You have touched hundreds, probably THOUSANDS of kids with your love of learning, your vigor and lust for life, with your energy and care for your students. With your commitment to perfect cursive handwriting, and mad tap-dance skills atop desks from West to East, you awakened an entire generation to the joy of learning.
You taught us to thirst after knowledge and to look for learning opportunities in every aspect of our lives–inside and outside the classroom. You read to us from wonderful books and required us to apply our learning through projects and papers that cemented this link between learning and living for all of our lives.
Your attitude toward mastery, education, and learning was and is contagious. I would guess that your positive teaching mantras not only uplift and enlighten your students, but your fellow faculty members and the other staff at the schools you’ve worked with, as well.
I have come to believe that I, WE, you– the whole world really– ARE ONLY AS GOOD AS OUR TEACHERS. We are only as STRONG, INTELLIGENT, ENLIGHTENED, and INSPIRED as the ones whose job it is to pass that torch on every day in classrooms around the world.
I had an interesting exchange with a nurse-friend of mine, recently. This friend is STRONG, she is TOUGH. She is a marathoner, a kidney cancer survivor, a mom of three boys (like you), a compassionate and caring caregiver to those who she has ministered to in her chosen career of nursing.
I’ve always known that I didn’t have the STONES for the medical profession. I didn’t have it for the blood, the other bodily fluids, the stress of caring for someone’s needs in the most critical times of their life, the LONG hours and the low(er) pay (at least for many nurses I find this to be the case).
I was telling my friend how much I admired the work that she did, day in and day out. Taking the utmost care of the human race must be hard. I told her that I could never be a nurse. I didn’t have the courage, or the presence of mind, or the physical will.
I told her that someday, if life allowed, I wanted to be a teacher. She said to me, “I could never be a teacher. That is the hardest, most important job that anyone can have.” I was shocked. To put it lightly.
I was surprised because this woman in a profession that I know I could never sustain, never succeed in, a profession I admire and respect very much, was telling me that TEACHERS had all of her admiration and respect. TEACHING was a job she knew that she didn’t have the moxie for, and she honored everyone who chose that career.
I’m not a teacher, yet. So I can’t speak to the long hours, low pay, and skewed curriculum that teachers face day in and day out. But I can speak to YOU, Mrs. Sandpearl. I can say that I’ve watched you– up close as your student, and from far away as you’ve continued in teaching– and I know that YOU MAKE ALL THE DIFFERENCE.
You don’t simply have the opportunity to change and shape lives every day as every teacher does who steps into a classroom five or six days a week. YOU DO change and shape lives every day (let alone the lives of your incredible sons). You shaped those lives in a rural cow town in the middle-of-nowhere Utah then, and you shape those lives in a metropolitan contiguity of Boston now.
I honor you. I honor what you do. I pray that you won’t ever stop doing it. I pray that others will follow after you. I hope that Teachers will continue to recognize and embrace the power and opportunity they are given every. single. day.