Rebecca Rider: Appreciate a teacher, this week and every week

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 4, 2017

By Rebecca Rider

If you’re looking for the most powerful person in the room, find a teacher.

Teachers may be heckled, exhausted and often underpaid, but even on their worst days, they wield the sort of power that can change the course of the future.

For at least eight hours a day, at least 180 days of the year, they look after children. During that time span, they are teacher, parent, counselor, mentor and inspiration. It’s a lot of hats to wear.

Often, it’s the sort of power that people don’t like to dwell on. A teacher can, with a word, spur a child on toward a shimmering future or send him in the opposite direction. Teachers can encourage students to pursue careers as a scientist, doctor or fellow teacher. But a poor teacher can destroy a child’s love of reading and learning, or steer them away from career paths.

It’s a delicate, high-wire balancing act — hats included. And I’ve never met a teacher who wasn’t aware of it.

The things that can affect a student often aren’t big revelations, “teachable moments” or class discussions. It’s the little things.

A teacher’s strict adherence to a seating chart — coupled with a developing need for an eyeglasses prescription and a desk in the back of the classroom — is the reason I don’t like math.

But, like I said, it’s the little things.

One of the most meaningful interactions I ever had with a teacher was a brief, silent, impulsive action. I was a senior in high school, struggling with a decision that would heavily affect my future. One day during lunch, the art teacher passed my desk and laid a paper tag from a tea bag in front of me — from one of those brands that writes inspirational messages on their products. This tab, just a small, crinkled piece of paper, said, “Where there is love, there is no question.”

For the teacher, it was likely an impulse. She knew I was struggling and thought it might cheer me up. But that prewritten encouragement gave me the push I needed to finally make my decision. And it was something that I kept in the back of my mind for years afterward.

That’s a huge burden to carry — knowing that the smallest interaction or decision can potentially make or break a child — and teachers don’t get enough credit for it.

Apples on a desk or a gift card at Christmas aren’t really enough to thank teachers for all the work they do and all the responsibility they have, day after day, year after year. By working with children, they build the future by hand, one word, one lesson at a time.

In case you haven’t heard, it’s Teacher Appreciation Week. And while, really, it should be teacher appreciation week every week for those who inspire and guide — be sure to take time out, at least today, to say, “Thank you.” I promise you it’s not something they hear nearly as often as it’s deserved.

Contact Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.