Stories, be they novels, movies, or cartoons, pivot upon the actions of the principal characters, referred to as "hero" and "heroine." For the purposes of dramatic effect, the characters' behavior and circumstances are often extraordinary, larger than life. By contrast, heroism in real life, like that of the caretaker who wakes every day to the responsibility of a sick child or parent, is usually private, silent, anonymous. True, firefighters and police demonstrate public bravery in their handling of critical situations. But most professions, however striking the uniform, come with little glory.
Doubtless few children want to dress up as teachers for Halloween. Too bad. In my opinion, educators are unsung, underpaid heroes, the pivot upon which all our lives turn - for the better. Oh, I've had my share of bad teachers. The nun, complete with mustache and scowl who made sixth grade a living hell. My high school history teacher who reduced the triumphant and tragic narratives of the American Revolution and Civil War to dry-as-dust outlines. For example,
I. Civil War
A. President Abraham Lincoln
1) President Lincoln is assassinated
And then there was the literature professor who spent half of every lecture bitching about the university's refusal to grant him tenure.
But these duds paled against the many teachers who made school such a joyful experience (smelly lunchrooms, mean girls, and gruesome Catholic school uniforms aside).
Sister Loretta whose cheerful disposition and ample lap made first grade feel like home. Sister Mary Francis who put me in charge of the hallway art projects. Mrs. Mahoney, my freshman year Latin teacher who - there's no other way to express this but as a cliché - brought a dead language to exhilarating life. I'm forever indebted to her for my appreciation of the English language. Mrs. Nugent, my AP English teacher, who taught me how to read and write with a critical eye. Mrs. Krebs who gave all the life back to history that the above-mentioned teacher had sucked the life out of. Dr. Richman, French professor, whose mentoring eased my transition to a large, urban university. And Dr. Robbins whose classes in American literature, a mixture of personal anecdotes and poetic sensibility, were the highlight of my graduate studies.
What all these teachers had in common was a passion for their work. Their interest in their subject, their need to share it with their students, was palpable and contagious. Their kindness, too, was another notable trait. But the one characteristic I find the most intriguing was their sense of vocation, that they felt a calling to teach. All of which, I suppose, is their greatest lesson to me.
Heed your inner voice telling you what you want to be when you grow up.
Give it all you've got.
Share your passion and joy.