I was eating pizza recently at a local restaurant when a hand shot out and grabbed my arm. I looked into the face of a middle-aged woman who said, “Mrs. Barnoski, I am sorry to bother you, but I promised myself that if I ever saw you, I would stop and tell you about my son Wes and thank you for all you did for him.”
Strolling downtown on the waterfront pier, I almost tripped in front of a young woman who blocked my way. She took my hand and kissed it impulsively while she laughed, “Mrs. Barnoski, I heard your voice and had to say hi.”
People think they know a lot about teaching. Teachers work with kids; they get their summers off; they are not paid very well. However, there is a secret that people have missed. It is a job that keeps on giving long after a teacher is physically out of the classroom. This I believe: Teaching offers more rewards than any profession one can choose. In my 32-year career, I spent over 5000 days developing relationships with 8000 teenagers. I had a chance to impact them─make a difference in their lives and who they became. I was not always successful, but I always had another day to try─another student to discover.
There is no way to measure what my students and their parents have given to me.
Walking by John’s open casket, I did not know what to do. I leaned in close to his mother and whispered, “I was John’s teacher.” She pulled me close, looked in my eyes and said, “John loved you. Thank you for teaching him to write poetry.” I fumbled upright and walked on.
An unfamiliar parent approached and wrapped her arms around me. “This is from Sarah Straus. You taught her daughter. She is a productive person because of you. Her mother told me to hug you if I ever saw you and to tell you that she prays for you each night.”
A graduate whom I had not seen for many years stopped by after school when he saw me working late. His eyes were thick with tears as he spoke. “You never gave up on me,” he said. You never ignored me. You always encouraged me to get my work in and pass all of my classes even when I wasn’t nice to you. Thank you.”
As I go about my day in the small city where I taught, I bump into former students and their parents. My heart is full. So many unexpected wonderful surprises.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.