Her name was Ms. Hacker. She was small in stature, probably a mere 5’4”. She dressed as though she had stepped off of an Ivy League campus to teach third grade in a small, public elementary school, in a small Kentucky town. When she smiled, she did it genuinely. It was never coerced or strained.
She inspired me to question everything. This skill that she, too, exemplified was what grabbed my attention. She’d drawn me in with her cavalier nature, but managed to retain my total interest with her attention to detail. In her presence, I forgot that I was learning a school lesson; I was enjoying the experience of expanding my knowledge and thought processes.
Nearly three decades have passed since I sat in her classroom, but she carved out an indelible memory within me. She also set the bar high for every teacher who followed.
There are good teachers out there trying to make a difference, fighting powerful currents of negativity and often bogged down in policy and procedure. There are bad teachers, treating students as afterthoughts and counting down the days until summer break. Then there are the ultra-rare, unprecedented teachers who transform lives, inspire students and teachers alike, and create ripples within society’s fabric.
Teachers are our children’s first wave of preparation and encouragement and, ultimately, a deciding factor in the shaping of our great country.
A 20-something rookie stepping into the first teaching job is usually ready to grab the tiger by the tail. But eventually, either through bureaucracy or personal or political wear, too many have their luster fade and teaching becomes a clock-punching existence.
The art of teaching and style of learning has evolved, assisted by technology and technique. Chalk-covered hands and slacks are no longer, having been traded in for digital touch screens and PowerPoints. Citing one’s sources has transitioned from referencing Encyclopedia Britannica to a wide array of online resources. Discretely passing folded paper notes during class has evolved into instantaneously sending unimaginative text messages.
The one thing that will not change — no matter the class year, size, or grade level — are the characteristics of a superb teacher. The alpha and omega of a teacher is to promote learning as a lifelong journey. Great teachers pour this concept over their students, imprinting it on them like a proud tattoo.
Elite teachers also stress problem solving. Children who learn to solve problems grow up to be adults who solve problems. This capability serves the student, their family and their community.
Lastly, upper-echelon educators encourage students to find their passion. They help them hone skills, sharpen God-given talents, and give them confidence to keep working at doing what they love.
Great teachers don’t wield axes, mercilessly chopping down weak trees. Instead, they tirelessly prepare the soil, place meek saplings down and foster growth as best they can. No matter what outside variables may try to interfere, a teacher’s only concern is that students grow strong. Selfless teachers do not rest until they are enveloped by sequoias, redwoods, ashes and oaks, all proudly reaching toward the sky.
Those who choose to be teachers deserve our full support. Every resource needed should be provided to them. Their salaries should reflect the monumental job that they do for all of us.
Whether Ms. Hacker knows it or not, her small spark of encouragement created a roaring fire, one which continues to spread as I live my life. That’s the imposing power of a teacher.
Jim Jackson of Frankfort is a free-lance writer.