Teacher. Now there is a word, sort of medium-sized compared to proceedings or alliteration, but it carries so much more meaning than we might expect. One of the joys of being a high school counselor is the chance to talk to all sorts of students with all kinds of amazing talents, thoughts, aspirations, as well as assorted challenges, ranging from awful to horrifying to ordinary.

In a conversation with a student who really doesn’t like school, who was bullied (yes, in spite of all the anti-bullying programs, we still have people who are bullies) and didn’t want to be in the school he was in but had to be there anyway. Things were looking pretty dicey as we worked around anger, depression and a few funny moments as well. Then, being the brilliant counselor I might occasionally be, I said, “When did it all go wrong?”

What was somewhat surprising to me was the answer, “It all started in third grade, where a teacher treated me unfairly and didn’t believe me.” At this point I want to highlight one of my beliefs about teachers. Just as there are good doctors, there are bad ones too, a rule which applies to teachers as well; however, I have the utmost respect for teachers because they have a job that is so much more important than legislatures and many others perceive. There are great teachers, OK ones, not so good (that was my slot a few times) and definitely not good.

The comment “It all started in third grade,” led to this question: “Did you have any teachers that you did like?” This is where the mood definitely improved. A fourth-grade teacher was mentioned. He was fun because “he was enthusiastic and at the last part of the day, we got to go outside and have fun.” I happened to recognize the name of this person, who no longer is teaching fourth graders, but currently teaches prospective teachers at a nearby university as well as consults with many educators in our county.

I got permission from the student to tell this person what they had said. So, as soon as I was done with my counseling conversation, I called the teacher in question and a minor miracle happened: I didn’t have to talk to an answering machine!

He answered and had a clear memory of who the student was. The best part of this call, was his comment that letting him know these words of praise, from a time seven years in the past, “made my day.” As is the case with many people in education, during this pandemic, there is a much larger workload than usual, and the days can be pretty rugged, so anything that puts a positive light on the job is definitely welcome.

To be reminded that something we did made a lasting and positive impression, really helps reinforce why we do the work in the first place. Whether one is a teacher, counselor or any other person who works with students, it is rewarding to hear we have made a difference.

But wait, there’s more. When we got to the student’s eighth-grade experience, another teacher, rated “the best” was mentioned. This teacher, got what could be some of the highest praise possible: “She was understanding about everything, and she believed us.” It has always seemed apparent to me that the most important quality a teacher can possess is the ability to connect with students. If a student becomes aware that the person they are talking to cares about them, doesn’t judge them, and believes in them, education happens.

I was able to call this teacher and speak with her to share this precious sentiment. Another day was “made,” and due to the sharing of one student, three people had their days made. It is no wonder I love my job so much because the opportunity to spread some “joy” is best never passed up.

Some of these moments can be the most important experiences a student can have and can be remembered forever. When I interview adults and ask them if they have had any teacher or other adult, who really influenced the path of their life, it is often teachers and mentors, who have made a lasting impression.

I share this story to emphasize that the small things we do for children can have a much larger impact than we can imagine. Even though the subject that started this, may not like school any more now, I do believe these positive memories can only help make things better over time. So, if you ever have the chance, express your gratitude to whomever it was that helped you on your personal journey through life and “make their day.”

Kevin Wychopen is a semi-retired school counselor. Contact him at itsabigworld@live.com.

Kevin Wychopen is a semi-retired school counselor and weekly columnist for the Enterprise. Contact him at itsabigworld@live.com.

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