We are all teachers whether we want to be or not. Whether or not to be a teacher is something we have no choice about!
I watched my beautiful 4-year old son, Gaston, interacting with the mentally impaired adolescents at the All-Star Summer Camp. He danced with Nelly; did water paints along side Jeff; he let Samantha lead him around like her little brother and got her to push him in the swing. He had Trevor and Mark in an uproar of laughter as they sang his favorite “Itsy-Bitsy Spider” song with him trying to imitate the movements of his tiny hands. This was the moment I realized that Gaston been watching my every move and was imitating me.
I had created the All-Star Summer Camp because local programs were not equipped or staffed to handle these very special young people. There was nothing available to them at the time to meet their recreational and social needs. They had school during the fall, winter and spring—but nothing in the summer. So I spoke with some of my faithful staff and asked them if they would like to do some volunteer work at a new summer camp to fill this void in the lives of our students. Donna the Art Therapist, Melaney the Music Therapist, and Lois the Physical Therapist agreed to donate their time. And, a few parents joined our team.
At age 13, Gaston moved to Michigan to go to school. He spent his summer with a family friend whose mother (“Moms”) was very ill. Moms’s decline into Alzheimer’s disease was spiraling deeper and deeper. There were 3 other teenage boys sharing the residence. When I would call for a progress report, the House Parent would always comment about how, unlike the other boys, Gaston took time with Moms. He would listen to her, ask her questions about her youth, bring her a glass of water, straighten her blankets, wash her face, brush her hair—anything she wanted. He made her feel loved and very special to him. Sometimes he would just sit on the sun porch and hold her hand. He would share his precious snacks with her.
Gaston observed and mimicked me and our camp team playing and learning together. He became the “mascot” of our camp. But, as a teenager, he transformed his observations into the caretaking of an Alzheimer’s patient. I had never given Gaston direct instruction on how to work with a person with compromised intellect. He had just watched me, imitated the loving care the All-Star Camp staff gave to our mentally challenged campers, and found it very natural to nurture Moms. I realized that I and all of the All-Star Camp staff had been his teachers, even without trying. I realized how much my son learned by watching me—I was a teacher—there was no decision I got to make about that. I realized that we are all teachers whether we want to be or not….Someone–some child–is always watching us and learning something from everything we do.
So, we must always be at our best in front of our children because they are learning and taking in everything we say and do! We do not get to choose whether to be a teacher or not. We are all teachers…This I believe!