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Larry Efird: Why we’re here

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

I can’t imagine why anyone would choose the teaching profession if he or she didn’t enjoy helping others.

There’s perhaps no greater reward for teachers than watching a student succeed or grow in self-confidence, knowing that something we did helped a child have a better day or a better life. But helping others oftentimes has its inherent challenges.

In an ideal world, all students would come to class quietly (and on time), take out their books without being asked, and participate attentively for the entire class period. They would be in full compliance with the school dress code. Everyone would always follow directions and only need to hear them once. They would have their assignments completed on time, and all their work would be neat and legible. They would also all have the necessary writing utensils, along with something to write in or on — preferably a notebook or notebook paper. (Some kids can be unduly creative in that regard.)

No class would ever be interrupted by a special announcement, and no student would ever need to leave class to use the bathroom, see another teacher, or go to the office for a suspicious reason that he or she deemed “very important.”

A few days ago, during the whirling dervish of a class change, at least four students approached me simultaneously, all having an urgent need: one needed to see the nurse, one needed to get a permission slip for a field trip, one needed to go back and get her book from her previous class, and one needed something I never did figure out. I heard her speaking, but I couldn’t respond.

I felt somewhat as if I were looking up at all of them from the bottom of a swimming pool. They couldn’t hear me and I couldn’t hear them. It was if we were all suspended in time for about 10 seconds, but in the life of a school, “suspended time” is never a good thing.

A teaching colleague just smiled at me in the background, knowing full well what I was thinking, because he had, of course, found himself in the same situation before. All teachers have. He was simply amused that it was happening to someone else.

I do want to help all of my students. That’s a given. Every teacher I know wants to help theirs as well. But sometimes, a day can implode and we wonder what on earth we are doing in this situation, because we feel like we’re really not helping anyone, and on top of that, some students don’t want our help to start with.

My wife was reading a book not long ago and stopped, as she often does, to share a line or two with me. It was a quote from the English-American poet W.H. Auden. He said, “We are here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don’t know.”

It made us both laugh because there’s something understandably universal about his comment. Who hasn’t felt that way before?

I observed recently with awe and admiration how nurses take care of multiple patients and their individual needs in a hospital. I was amazed at how much they have to keep up with for each patient.

Teachers do much the same thing for their students while trying to comprehend their 504 plans and IEPs and attempting to differentiate lesson plans to accommodate every learning style they encounter among their students.

Some teachers have over 100 students a semester to teach, nurture and inspire. They are all different and unique. “One size doesn’t fit all” in the mall or in the classroom. Keeping up with grades, parent contact logs, professional development plans, health needs for students, technological changes and new waves of emails each day, teachers can start each day wondering if they are able to help anyone because they need help themselves. That’s usually when I begin thinking how much I’d pay for everyone to leave me alone.

All of us are here on earth to help others, no matter what our profession. And though I may wonder at times why everyone else is here, at least I know why I am. And so do the people I know who call themselves teachers.

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

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