When I was a student athlete, I remember playing a little differently when Mom and Dad were in the stands. They were faithful supporters, and their presence put a little pep in my step.
In college, when my suite-mates came to my games with posters that said, “Go Green ’Cause Green Means Go,” I played like an all-star. I think those memories have made me a better teacher and a better coach.
For instance, after the second round of the state tournament a few years back, I sat with my soccer girls at the top of the bleachers, waiting for their parents to pick them up. This was as far as any soccer team at our school had ever gone in postseason play, so it was a record-breaking game at the end of a record-making season, and more than half my players had no parents there to support them in one of the happiest moments of their young lives.
It made me sad.
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But I also felt proud. Because for every mom missing, there was a teacher standing in the gap.
That’s what teachers do. They fill in holes when parents are missing. They wipe runny noses, feed empty bellies, clothe cold bodies. They love without bias, care without condition, support without similar last names. When parents are missing, teachers step in. That’s just what teachers do.
I think we all can bear witness to the warm fuzzies we feel when we are in the presence of the ones we hold dear. The love language of quality time is a basic human need, and when so many children do not have that need met, I feel sad.
But then, I hear about a teacher like Stan Shively over at Richards Middle School, and I feel proud.
Mr. Shively is the epitome of a gap-stander. He can attest to investing everything into the life of a child: his time, his devotion, and sometimes most importantly, his presence.
One afternoon he spied a student in tears, upset because no one from her family could come to her play. She asked, “Can you come and watch me, Mr. Shively?”
It was an easy answer for the social studies teacher. When he arrived at the performance, he not only made the little girl beam with happiness, but also the entire cast, who’d noticed the presence of their beloved teacher and giggled with giddy excitement. He could hear them from behind the curtain: “Hey, guys, it’s Mr. Shively. He came. He came to watch us!” The thrill in their voices was almost tangible.
Mr. Shively sat through the play watching his kids like a proud papa, and I’m sure they performed like all-stars after they saw their favorite teacher in the audience.
See, it doesn’t take much. A football game on Friday night or an art show on Thursday evening, a chorus concert on Wednesday or a math team meet on Saturday – just showing up does something to a kid. There is a sort of magic teachers possesses when they leave the classroom for the auditorium or the gymnasium, when they aren’t correcting grammar but cheering, when they aren’t teaching content but sharing quality time.
Believe me, kids notice. They can spot their teachers on a crowded bleacher or in a dimmed theater, and the next thing you know, they are running faster or singing louder.
But it wasn’t just the lonely little girl who benefited from Mr. Shively’s presence at that play.
I’m sure he bubbled over a bit, too. Because, well, that’s just what teachers do.