A letter to teachers

The role

A while ago I was at a physiotherapy training, and someone asked me how did a “computer businesswoman” end up there. I told them my story: I want to be a Pilates instructor because I had an injury. The doctors told me it would leave a permanent pain and there was nothing to do about it. Pilates healed me, and today I can’t find any traces of the neck injury.

On top of that, it has brought me joy, self-awareness, strength and flexibility. It introduced me to a whole new world of things. And bringing that to other people is very appealing. It would be an honour. 

As the person heard this, she replied something in the lines of “Oh, I forgot about all this. I’ve been a therapist for so long; I disconnected from my original motives. What brought me here in the first place is basically the same: to help others. It’s been years since I thought of that.”.

This whole exchange reminded me of how important it is to love your job, particularly in those fields of work where there’s a direct and significant impact in the life of others. Therapists, doctors, teachers come to mind. In fact, I can’t think of a more noble profession than that of being a teacher or a carer for children. The role here is profound, and a lack of love for making children thrive could have, I believe, damaging and lasting consequences. 

The teacher

I started thinking of my teachers when I was a kid. I had a few that I remember and feel deeply about, up to this day. One comes to mind at the moment. She was my language teacher, and she would read and tell stories with her whole body. Her eyes would open up in excitement, her hands and arms waving around, almost as if dancing. She would become a part of the story. The classes were often standard classes, with grammar rules, exercises and so on. Sometimes, however, we would get the treat of her reading or telling us a story before discussing and interpreting it. Those classes would light up my days.

Anyway, the teacher told me once she liked how I wrote and that she’d be happy to read my stories if I ever tried to write one. I was thrilled. I definitely wanted to write. And having someone like her to read it would be incredible.  My mind was spinning: Had she really noticed my writing? Was she curious? I could hardly believe it. And so, I wrote a story and tried to make it as fantastic as possible – I spent the whole week working on it which, at that age, seemed like a tremendous amount of time. And then I gave her the story and waited.

During the very next class, she asked me to stay at the end and if I wanted to get her opinion. She said the writing was high-grade and the style was fascinating and that she had liked it. However, the plot was weak; I needed more drama in the story. “The main character can’t have just one challenge and then solve it. You need to keep adding more and more obstacles in the way, have surprise twists and magic recoveries and setbacks. Keep the reader intrigued all the way until the very last sentence”. A piece of advice I should think about more often. 

A golden opportunity

She was a bit nervous about telling me this, but I was delighted to hear it. It was something concrete that I could work on and improve upon. I had a challenge, and I was going to make it. After this meeting, I started thinking about a new story, and soon enough I just knew it: it was going to be about the most painful and scary episode in my life until that point. It had all the right ingredients, and it would surely shock and surprise my reader. On top of that, I had never been able to talk about it to anyone, so this would be a good way of saying it, even without saying it. Also, maybe if she read it, she would say “That was such a brave, strong, little girl in your story.” That was something I really wanted to hear. 

Hence, I went for it and wrote it, with as many details as I dared to put into words. Some of it was too scary to even revisit in my memory. Some things, I told myself, are better left buried. One day it will rotten and disappear. Hint: it didn’t.

More than letters

So, I brought the teacher the new story, and she looked happy to receive it. She told me, like the first time, that she would soon let me know what she thought of it and that she was very curious about it. The next class, I rushed into the room and looked at her, expectantly, but nothing came. And then another session. A week, a month. The school year came to an end, and she never said anything. Not a word. 

It took many years before I managed to share the story again. This time face to face, gingerly, bit by bit. 

A request

This event may seem trivial, but it was very significant. See, a teacher is an adult, a role model. And there are often not that many in a kid’s life. Particularly if you consider adults that they look up to and trust. If you are a teacher, you are possibly one of the few fortunate people who get to play that role in a child’s life. I ask you, profoundly, to be open to that opportunity.

Whenever a kid comes to you and is trying to tell you something, please don’t ignore it. If you are a language teacher, the call for attention might come in a fictional story. Maybe you teach Math, and it might come in the easy math problem that keeps showing up incorrectly in an otherwise perfect exercise sheet. Or, as I’ve seen, a biology answer could start with “plants have emotional needs” instead of “nutritional needs”.  If you have that love and passion for thriving children, your own radar will tell you if there’s something deeper going on.

Maybe you can’t help, maybe you need to talk to the parents or the school, maybe you can give advice. Still, just listening and acknowledging might go a long way. And ignoring might also be quite significant.

You will have an impact, no matter what you choose to do, or not to do.  I wish you to be brave and honour the honour of your role.