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Larry Efird: What’s a teacher?

By Larry Efird

Special to the Salisbury Post

I was an elementary school principal at a private school for eight years. During that time, a precocious kindergartner at our school conveniently forgot to get her mom to sign a disciplinary note her teacher had sent home with her the previous day. She chose to hide the note rather than give it to her mother.

The next day when her teacher asked for the signed note, the little girl nonchalantly asked the teacher how to spell her mother’s name, obviously so she could write the name for herself, not realizing of course, that any adult could easily see the difference between a 5-year-olds handwriting and a parent’s. Shrewdly detecting what was going on, the teacher thought she would see just how far the student would go with her creative non-fiction.

Realizing she was running out of ideas, the child eventually began twirling her curly brown hair and said, “Can I talk to you later whenever I figure out the rest of the story?”

Assuming I’m still alive 25 years from now, I have imagined the following conversation that could potentially take place in 2040 with another 5-year-old girl: my future great-granddaughter. She may crawl up on my lap and ask me the question, “Papa, what’s a teacher?” Then she might continue by saying, “The face animation on my computer said that a long time ago there were schools with human teachers. Were you one of them before they all went away?”

Contemplating such a conversation might seem ludicrous in 2015, but if someone had told me five years ago that some schools would think they didn’t need librarians anymore, I would have thought that was ridiculous. Shockingly, it’s already started to happen. If someone had told me 10 years ago that schools would not be able to afford any books for their students, I would have thought that to be incredulous. But that is already happening as well. Just ask any kid who goes to a traditional public school.

Could it be that today’s public schoolteachers realize what the wise kindergarten teacher knew all along, that those who make bad decisions know when they are on the spot, but cleverly continue to make up answers as they go along? Sadly, how will their story end when they “get back to us”? Will the real story be that very few individuals will become teachers in the future because their role was discontinued or their value was diminished, all because no one could produce a credible “rest of the story” that made sense?

How could I answer my great-granddaughter in 2040? I suppose I will tell her why I was a teacher all those years and why others chose to teach as well. I could possibly begin by saying, “I wanted to teach because I wanted to help children, not just by teaching them spelling words and how to read better, but by making them feel special. Some of the boys and girls I taught didn’t feel very smart, because no one had explained to them how valuable they were. They needed a teacher who believed in them, one who would tell them they could do anything they wanted in life if they would work hard.”

I could also tell her that teaching was not just my job; it was a ministry of service to others. I would admit that I never got rich teaching school, but I gained eternal things money could never buy. I also got to help children grow up to be successful, and by teaching, I got to have many, many more children than the three who grew up in my house and who shared my last name.

Oddly enough, I think society is already asking the question, “What’s a teacher?” Perhaps today it’s more of a philosophical question, but truthfully, some people really don’t know the answer. I’m thankful that I do know the answer, and that one day I will know how to answer my great-granddaughter if she does ask me that penetrating question. But the one question I will not be able to answer is, “Why didn’t someone do something to stop all the teachers from going away?”

Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High School. 

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