How many times do you hear someone say something and think to yourself, “That should be on a T-shirt, or a bumper sticker, or at least the marquee outside Chic-fil-A.”? They are the kind of words that challenge us, inspire us, give us hope or make us laugh.
I know, for me, more often than not, I’m the one hearing and not saying words powerful enough to make it on a Hanes heather gray. So, when I do hear them, I can’t help but take notice. This past week, I heard two such phrases, and I think this last week before teachers take their much-needed holiday break, now is a great time to share them.
One came from one of the wisest and kindest men in our school system, John Cobis at Northside High. For those who don’t know the amazing English teacher, he’s like a cool blend between Mr. Miyagi, a monk and Yoda. When students leave his classroom, they realize they have been in the presence of something truly special.
I heard him speak the profound phrase in front of a nice collection of about 24 of this year’s Teacher of the Year honorees. His words were wrapped around the unfortunate truth that most teachers “labor in isolation,” meaning majority in this profession pour out their lives into this mission and their hearts upon their students without the notoriety, acknowledgment, affirmation and gratefulness they deserve, and truthfully, but quietly, desire. His point was to inspire each teacher to enjoy the honor of representing their school in such a pronounced and meaningful way as our city’s TOTY program.
The impact of Mr. Cobis’s phrase was so powerful to me, that I wrote it on my hand so I wouldn’t forget. Labor in isolation – it sounds depressing, and depending on your perspective, it might be. But knowing the life-altering impact Mr. Cobis is making on his students and understanding the point of his message to this group of teachers, I get it now. He wasn’t acknowledging the desperate, isolated feelings of teachers. He was highlighting the amazing, quiet contact teachers have with every child’s destiny. The subtle ways a teacher can speak to futures and prophesy over potentials. Alone. In their classrooms. Unnoticed by so many, but felt by the most important people – our students.
And then I sat in a room full of brand new teachers, listening to our fearlessly brave leader, Dr. Lewis. To a group of teachers recently answering their call to labor in isolation, our superintendent relayed how every teacher assumes a place of aesthetic prominence in the masterpieces our district sends out into the world every single May. About those works of art, he called teachers “pieces of glass in their mosaics.”
Think about that for a moment, Teachers: the kindergarten teacher who labors in colors and letters; the third grade teacher who labors in full paragraphs; the sixth grade teacher who labors in math; the ninth grade teacher who labors in biology; the 12th grade teacher who labors in economics. And all teachers in between are small pieces of light and color and brilliance in the work of art we call a graduate. Every teacher makes his or her mark in the masterpiece, and what a powerful message of hope and purpose to all teachers.
And again, wow.
Teachers, you may feel a bit overlooked, but you are certainly are not laboring in vain. So, enjoy your restful holiday season, Art-Makers.
Sheryl Green is a secondary educator in Columbus, Georgia. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.