Whatever it takes. That’s the mentality of most of our city’s teachers. To help a child connect to content or calm the nerves of a struggling learner or forge a relationship with a low performer, teachers will do whatever it takes.
It’s probably the sort of disposition we could all use an extra dose of in our lives — that resilience to have a goal and then relentlessly pursue it with every ounce of gumption we can muster. For teachers, the target is always a child’s face. Everything powerful a teacher ever does has a student’s name attached to it.
Sometimes the goal is bigger than what teachers can imagine — helping a youngster dealing with cancer, a child shoved into foster care, a lonely student being bullied. The holes to fill are endless, and the gaps to cover are wide, but the spirit of a teacher remains steadfast. Though the task is grand, the heart of a teacher is forever undaunted.
I was honored to witness a teacher pursue a child’s learning just a few weeks ago. She sat right next to the kindergartener at a little table more his size than hers. She was close enough to hear his timid answers, near enough to tap his arm with warm pats of assurance. She spoke to him with a mother’s voice, and he looked up at her with a purity of innocence that spoke loudly and clearly. He trusted her explicitly.
I found out why later. It is because of Fudgie.
Fudgie is Mrs. Musselman’s standard parti poodle. Her beloved pooch is a constant conversation piece between little Jared and Mrs. Musselman. I’m sure Fudgie’s incorporation into their relationship first began as a quick example for a learning piece, but the fuzzy bundle of energy became the glue that forever will connect Jared to his kindergarten teacher.
Now, Jared has never met Fudgie. He’s never scratched his belly or rubbed behind his ears. All he knows is what Mrs. Musselman has shared with him. And if you know anything about Mrs. Musselman, you know that’s probably a lot.
To Jared and Mrs. Musselman, Fudgie is more than a dog to be talked about when math gets difficult or ELA gets hard. Fudgie becomes a wall-breaker and a connection-maker. He is the avenue through which the relentless Mrs. Musselman reaches the heart of Jared so she can erase his insecurities and introduce to him confidence, knowledge, and ability.
Jared needs a little extra help in school — just an extra push to get him level with his peers. So when mom and dad were choosing schools to send their kindergartener, the answers to their prayers landed Jaden at North Columbus Elementary. In this pivotal moment in his life, when he tasted school for the first time, his parents prayed for a teacher to present school to him as possible, not impossible. So, Mrs. Musselman did, of course, whatever it took to do just that.
Seems simple, just talk about your dog. Seems almost too simple to work. But most times, doing what it takes to break down walls isn’t all that difficult. It’s a shake of a hand, a nod of the head, a smile of the lips. Nothing big. Nothing elaborate.
It’s finding those things that teachers are stealth masters of perfecting. They know the keys to unlock a child’s learning, and, of course, they’ll do whatever it takes to tap into their students’ potentials. Might be as simple as connecting with a dog-loving child through a four-legged furry friend named Fudgie or as huge as adopting a forgotten child out of foster care.
I can’t say I’ve seen it all, but I certainly have seen enough to know that teachers are wonderful, giving people who want what is best for kids. They don’t just teach children, though; they teach us grown folks, too. They make me ask myself: What are you, Sheryl, willing to do to bring a smile to someone’s face today? To make someone’s day a bit better?
I certainly am a better person because of my teachers, and for that, I am grateful.
Sheryl Green is a secondary educator in Columbus. Email her at email@example.com.