“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.” John Steinbeck
My sister, Kathy, graduates this weekend with her Masters in Teaching. She is 45 years old. To say she is a gifted teacher is an understatement; as a substitute teacher in her district she is one of the most sought-after teachers in the two schools she works. An introverted, painfully shy child in the past, my sister has become adept at capturing the attention and cooperation of young minds. Her students clamor for her attention and approval. She is especially gentle and empathic with those struggling to connect: with the subject matter, with their peers, with other teachers, with their world at hand.
Kathy regrets that she didn’t pursue a teaching career while in college the first time around. Instead, she bowed to influence from our well-meaning parents who recommended that we both get into “business.” So she started working as a trust officer for a large bank. And was miserable, very, very miserable.
Then she fell in love with a wonderful man, got married and had cherubic twin boys and chose to be a full-time mom. Fast forward a few years as the boys grew older and more independent. Her love for teaching, (which had never really gone away, just sort of idled dormant in a corner of her heart), rekindled anew and she started exploring options for substituting at her twins’ school. A Teacher was born.
A wistful, “I wish I had my teaching degree” over the years soon turned into, “I am going back to school and getting my teaching degree!” Armed with a supportive husband, children and a cheerleading squad made up of her teaching peers and other school administrators, my sister successfully juggled full-time motherhood, marriage, managing a home, substitute teaching and a full-time school load to make it to graduation day this coming weekend.
I’m proud of the fact that at her graduation, my sister will be wearing the pendant I gave her for the special day. Engraved are the words from Winston Churchill, “Never, never, never give up,” and her initials. I’m also very proud of her.
The other day, my sister taught a first grade class for most of the week. On Friday, one of the students, who had brought in some flowers, told Kathy that she should take the flowers home with her. After all, as he pointed out, “you did pretty good for yourself this week!” Pretty good, indeed.
I was almost eleven the day Aunt Flo came to visit. I knew all about menstruation, that’s another blog post, but being prepared to have it actually happen to me personally, well, that was another matter all together. But I was precocious, both mentally and physically, and Puberty had its speculative eye on me. I was already experiencing actual, excruciating growing pains, in my chest, where my breasts had begun to sprout into tight little mounds, and in my hips and legs, as they began to lengthen and grow more shapely.
One day, at school, I was seized by severe cramping that made me double over at my desk. The bell had rung and students were rushing to their next class. I couldn’t move or speak and I broke out in a cold sweat. As the pain subsided, I pulled myself out of my desk and stumbled to my next class. I was terrified at what was happening and too scared to go to the nurse or say anything to a teacher. A somewhat neurotic child, I had an overwhelming fear of doctors and anything health-related and my overactive imagination began to consider all kinds of horrible things that could be wrong with me. I suffered in self-induced misery.
I began to panic, and cry. My father came to the door, asking what was wrong. In halting tones, I blurted out that I had started my period. Silence on the other side of the door.
When my mother came home and opened up the basement door from the garage, she found my father and me standing there, waiting for her. Years later, she said we looked like two deer in the headlights. My dad just looked at her and repeated her name, Amy, Amy, and shook his head. My usually articulate father was bereft of words. My mother looked at me and said, Amalie, you certainly do everything with a bang! I began to feel quite grown up and proud of myself then. It wasn’t until years later that I realized with a pang that it was a turning point in my relationship with my father. No longer was I his little girl, his first born that he cradled so carefully in his capable hands. It also wasn’t until much later that I learned to be grateful for the sensitivity and relative stoicism with which he handled the situation, “grace under fire” if you will. But he began to treat me with an almost Old World politeness at times, excusing himself awkwardly if we should run into each other exiting the family bathroom or brush up against each other in the hall. I was a young woman now and we both tried to regain our footing in the new terrain of our relationship.
Interesting, the perspective the years lend the past. I would do any of it over again, really, because the past made me strong, resourceful and helped me identify exactly what it was I wanted to do and become. But I wish I had been happier and less alone. I have to work at being less guarded as an adult. I am lucky to have a wonderful circle of family and friends now. I’ve even let a special person into my heart, but sometimes I have to be cognizant of letting them get closer, to be less independent, because the rich reward of connecting with people and making them a part of your life enhances every aspect of what you do. Winston Churchill said, “Never, never, never give up.” Never forget that someone out there is pulling for you, is thinking about you, loves you, cares about, worries about you. More importantly, it matters that you are in charge of your destiny. The mind and soul are resilient, they can triumph over a great deal.
Sometimes where you are at a given moment in time can be a lonely, barren place and you feel like if you scream, there is no one around to hear you or care. But I’m telling you, scream, and you scream loudly. Do something, write and journal, listen to music, reach out to a teacher or a counselor, grab on to a friend or family member. But do something. Don’t give up, I’m telling you that life is too sweet, there is too much out there to experience, oh, god, the enormity of it all can make me weep, there is so much to see, taste and take in. And you deserve it.