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Each student is a mosaic masterpiece, and we all know who the artists are

Cropped shot of elementary school children in class
Cropped shot of elementary school children in class Getty Images

A wise man once said that a high school senior walking across the graduation stage is a mosaic of the many teachers who had a part in creating that culminating success.

It’s quite true, if you think about it. Recall the many teachers who spoke life into your destiny, fostered your potential and quieted the naysayers in your mind. You, me, all of us are the masterpieces of the guild of teachers who helped fit together the many pieces that make us who we are. Some corrected us when we needed it, challenged us when we didn’t want it, inspired us when we craved it. And that, my friend, is the artistry of a teacher. It isn’t always easy, though. Sometimes the pile of shattered glass won’t fit together right. No matter how many ways teachers try to move the pieces, 180 days pass before the masterpiece is done, and sad teachers have to let their students go, incomplete and unfinished.

And so, they pray hard for the next teacher who inherits the mosaic with some pieces still missing. Covering their colleagues with a desperate prayer, they hope: Maybe, just maybe, this will be the year the last piece finally finds its place.

This is exactly how Clubview Elementary fifth grade teacher, Amberly Fahnestock, felt at one point in her teaching career — desperately hopeful. Over and over, she had to look into the shallow eyes of her students and shower them with every ounce of compassion and love she had to give. She saw students battle sexual abuse, endure physical beatings from their parents, fight against emotional neglect. She received the brunt of misguided anger and felt the sting of misdirected frustration. Surrounded by hurting, broken students, she carried the weight of their brokenness on her shoulders.

All teachers have felt this weight and carried this load. It’s the overwhelming desire to mend the woes of our students, to stand in the gap and bridge the chasm between hope and despair. For most of us, that’s why we chose this profession. But sometimes, 180 days just isn’t enough time to rebuild what’s broken.

Mrs. Fahnestock has certainly felt those inadequacies. She has wondered if what she was doing was enough. Then, she had an epiphany all teachers need to have. She discovered this nugget of truth: Her love, devotion, and commitment to her students were, indeed, enough. A school-year of opportunities to mend hearts, heal wounds, and put the pieces back together was just the right amount of time to finish her part of the beautiful mosaic.

When it was time, Mrs. Fahnestock would pass the unfinished mosaic on to the next loving, devoted, committed teacher with her hopes and prayers that another piece would find its place.

And … it would. Thankfully, remarkably, beautifully … it would. Because that’s the very essence of a teacher’s craft – to mold and mend and find the missing pieces.

So, by the time a broken child walks across the graduation stage, he has the fingerprints of 12 teachers who carefully, artfully helped create his beautiful mosaic. Wow. What a way to view the work of a teacher.

Is it painful, tedious work? Most definitely. Is it difficult work? Of course it is. But would a teacher trade it for anything in this world? Not a chance, especially a teacher like Mrs. Fahnestock.

Take heart, my teacher friends. When you are tired and weary of protecting the potentials of your students, think about yourself as the artist that you are, and keep arranging and gluing and rearranging and re-gluing until you see the work of art you had a hand in creating.

Sheryl Green is a secondary educator in Columbus. Email her at