Larry Efird: The soul of a teacher

Published 12:33 am Sunday, November 25, 2018

When someone refers to the soul of a teacher, I think most people would correctly assume he or she is referring to a teacher’s heart or passion. Because a soul is intangible, even in a religious sense, defining it can be ambiguous at best and not make a whole lot of sense.

As an English teacher, I spend a great deal of time teaching students to inject healthy doses of imagery into their writing. Consequently, one day I wondered, “What if you could see, hear, smell, taste, or touch a teacher’s soul?” Sometimes, like my students, I need a visual myself to help me understand an abstract concept. So here goes…

What could the soul of a teacher look like?

Maybe it’s not as priceless as a self-portrait by Rembrandt but it’s just as invaluable as one done by a kindergartner. A teacher’s soul might be seen as the calmness of an October field dotted with orange pumpkins. Or perhaps in the glimpse of an ant exposed to the sun scurrying across brown stones on a garden path. It could possibly be seen in the reassuring blue sky following a hurricane or as the welcoming red door of an Episcopal church. It’s like seeing the Grand Canyon for the very first time—or the one-hundredth.

What could the soul of a teacher sound like?

The delighted voices of children on a playground. The brassy heralds of a marching band. The sound of thunder over the ocean. The roar of a jet engine before takeoff and at the same time the gentle tap of rain against a window. It’s the sound of wind chimes hanging in a tree, but also the warning of a garbage truck going in reverse. It’s the sound of beagles barking as they chase a rabbit through the woods as well as the monotone of a preacher whose sermon has gone five minutes too long.

What could the soul of a teacher smell like?

A glowing fireplace on a winter morning. Popcorn in the microwave. Chocolate chip cookies baking in the kitchen. Starbucks. Warm cotton when you open a dryer filled with fresh towels. A burgeoning gardenia bush in summer. My grandfather’s pipe. Burning rubber at a NASCAR race. Peppermint and Christmas trees. Salty ocean breezes—and maybe just a hint of dead fish too.

What could the soul of a teacher taste like?

Cheerwine and cheese straws. A hamburger and French fries. Sweet tea. Fried chicken. Mashed potatoes with gravy. Barbecue. Chocolate fudge. Pecan pie. Hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Buttercream icing. Bacon and eggs. Sausage balls at a wedding reception. Fried pickles. Green onions. Ham biscuits. A tomato sandwich with Duke’s mayonnaise. Spaghetti and meatballs. Seafood at Calabash. A hot dog all the way.

What could the soul of a teacher feel like?

The first chilly night for a high school football game. Thick, green grass under bare feet. The squish of Play-Doh. A hot shower after working all day in the yard. The first and last steps of a ten-mile hike. Water-skiing. Climbing all the steps of the Washington Monument and then running down. A bear hug. A tap on the shoulder. Smoothly sanded wood. An icy sidewalk. A dive into a swimming pool — or a belly flop.

Of course a teacher’s soul is nothing you can actually see or hear or smell or taste or touch, but it’s just as real as the five senses. It’s unselfish but demands a great deal. It may weep alone but it often dries the tears of others. It confesses but it also praises. It sings but it can go out of tune. It mystically knows others better than those individuals know themselves.

The soul of a teacher is not perfect but it is inherently good, though theologians might disagree. And of course it doesn’t look, sound, smell, taste, or feel the same for every teacher or the casual observer. It is diverse, much like the students we teach.

But perhaps one thing is undeniable regarding the souls of those who call themselves teachers: it never dies because it lives on in the souls of our students. That’s something I don’t have to imagine. I know because the souls of all my former teachers reside in me.

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