What drives teachers — teaching their subjects, or teaching their students?
It’s a matter of perspective and heart, I guess. Either answer is the “right” answer, of course, because however a teacher answers the question, children benefit.
The most effective teachers, though, seem always to be the most passionate ones. Loving their subjects translates into contagiously engaging classes, while adoring kids becomes a priceless rapport between teacher and student. As long as teachers are thrilled to walk into their school, it ultimately doesn’t matter what prompts them to do so.
But, oh, how we try to convince our students that science should be their favorite subject. Or that majoring in history is worth a try. Or that becoming a computer programmer is where the future is headed. We can’t help being devoted to our content. That’s what Natalie Kelly made as her mission at Hardaway High School back in 2001 during her first year as the Hawk’s health-care science teacher. As a career technical instructor, the mission seemed logical. Students taking her class would logically desire to graduate and move on towards careers in health care. So, Mrs. Kelly’s burning passion for her subject matter became what woke her up each morning.
And as Mrs. Kelly shared that thrill with her students during her first year of teaching, she quickly became one of those teachers. A teacher who instantly connects with her students. A teacher who can draw out the fantastic in her kids. A teacher who motivates and inspires and changes teenagers.
The interesting thing about one of those teachers is that sometimes, the impact is never known. Students come and go and move on into their lives, while the teacher never knows what sort of difference she made. Teachers remain in their classrooms, continuing to inspire the next group of impressionable young people.
But, sometimes, every once in a blue moon, a teacher catches wind of that impact.
Like when Mrs. Kelly got a letter in the mail one summer’s day after her first year of teaching. The decorative envelope caught her eye, so she stood right there in her driveway to read it. Her eyes moved to the signature line. Thrilled to see the name of one of her most beloved students, the nursing teacher scoured the letter, hanging on every word from the appreciative recent graduate.
Everything was fine until she came to these words, “… and because of you, I have decided not to go into health care.” Wait, what? Immediately, the teacher’s heart sank. She thought to herself, “She’s not going to be a nurse? I have failed. I obviously didn’t reach her.” Her driveway became a vat of quicksand as the passion for teaching her subject matter sank to despair. But she kept reading. “… and because of you, Mrs. Kelly, I have decided to be a teacher!”
The letter became a philosophy for Natalie Kelly. Her goal as a teacher became not just instilling in her students a love for health-care science, but more importantly, helping them create within themselves a standard of ethics and a desire to serve others. Now, 17 years later, she’s got a large troop of former students making a difference in this world in whatever field they chose to pursue.
Imitation certainly is the sincerest form of flattery, and when a teacher combines a love for her subject with a love of her students, the result is mighty. So we thank teachers like Mrs. Kelly for sharing their passions and teaching our children.