My great aunt, Celista Newman Murphy would have been 106 this week.
Sis was like a grandmother to my family; and spoiled my brothers and sisters and me with grape soda, bakery coffee cakes, and fried perch. She was a nurturer, wise and strong.
Her influence on my life was boundless.
You see, my aunt and uncle were unable to have children. I remember, Vern, my uncle, telling people that my siblings and me were the closest thing he could get for grandchildren.
I never realized the impact that must have had on their lives. Although we basked in their love often, I think the depth and emptiness certainly took their toll. That is until my aunt went to college at the age of 50 to become an elementary/special ed teacher.
She went year round driving to WMU and back to South Haven every day.
She got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in record time. A non-traditional older student, many of her classmates grappled to have her in their groups and her life experience took her far. She was the coolest 50 something they had ever known.
Upon graduation, she was hired on the spot.
She taught first grade and later was the Bridging Room teacher. She served until she had to retire at 72 years old.
I bring you this story today, because I believe new teachers need to understand the depth of the work they will tasked to do. Sometimes their school rooms will seem more like home than their actual homes. They can use my aunt as an example.
Aunt Sis spent nearly every day after school, and as often as possible in the summer, in her classroom “working”. She was mentor to many, including my sister and me, who were in the Future Teachers program at our high school in South Haven, Michigan.
I was able to observe teaching from afar at first, often just being an extra set of hands and eyes for her. But as I continued to college and later to a teaching position, I often remembered the lessons she taught me.
She shared her experience of “side hugs” and to never treat a student without a sense of dignity. Her style of gentle but firm patience was something to emulate. She laughed often. There was not one child in all her years of teaching that ever felt unwanted or unloved in her classroom.
She was simply the best.
The gifts of a mentor, who is passionate about students and their lives, is invaluable.
While I can’t possibly ask early career educators to replicate that kind of commitment, I want them to understand the level with which they should approach all their students. Mindful, always, that there are just as many levels of comfort or homes as there are learning styles in the classroom.
In many ways, your classroom is a safety zone for many; a constant .
As much as people complain that teaching is difficult and the “unloved cousin” of a career choice, the impact it has on thousands of young people is what will sustain all of our futures.
It is a super hero job.
What other career do you know of that can influence, sustain, or protect on a daily basis as much as a teacher?
Supported teachers will come the closest to successful goals.
Let’s continue to have their backs.
Thanks for listening.