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The 2021-2022 School Year Begins: Let’s Celebrate the Teachers

John O’Leary shares a story of his childhood teacher to remind us to stop and celebrate our teachers as we begin the 2021-2022 school year.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” – William Arthur Ward

As we launch into the 2021-2022 school year, dealing with significant unknowns, substantial anxieties, with impassioned differing opinions on how best to handle a third school year impacted by Covid, I wanted to share two things.

First, the picture of my babies on their first day of school this year! See above!

And second, the story of one of the greatest teachers of my life.

The last time I saw this teacher, Cathy Collins, was at her home.

Before that evening, it had been more than 20 years since we’d visited. After learning she’d been diagnosed with cancer and was not responding to treatment, I wanted to see her, visit with her and thank her.

Her husband, Jack, met me at the front door, shook my hand and guided me through the house back to his wife. She was in their family room, resting in a large hospital bed. Although she was dying, Cathy still had a sparkle in her eye and a welcoming smile on her face.

Two decades earlier, the situation was reversed.

Teachers bring comfort and normalcy to children during times of challenge.

After being burned, I was a scared, medicated, little kid recovering from burns in a hospital bed. I had bandages over my entire body, was connected to various machines, and was being prepared to go home. She was called in to tutor a nine-year-old boy who was in agonizing pain, could not focus, had no fingers, and didn’t really like school in the first place!

She walked into the hospital room, approached my hospital bed,  flashed a big smile, and bellowed out that she was thrilled to get me ready to return to school. In the midst of chaotic days, she always treated me with unmitigated optimism, vibrant love and total certainty that better days were ahead.

Cathy didn’t see bandages or scars, she didn’t see disabilities or insurmountable odds. Instead this fine teacher saw a little boy, who needed more time to heal, required a lot of help, but had limitless potential beneath the surface.

For several months in hospital, she was that help for me. And even after coming home from the hospital, Cathy tutored me in order that I might catch up with my class. She continued her efforts until I was physically well enough to return to school. She made learning fun, homework a joy, quizzes easy, and difficult days endurable.

Great teachers always remind us that our past challenges and current circumstances have no power to abrogate our future possibilities.

Teachers help children see and celebrate the possibility the future holds; that is more critical during the 2021-2022 school year than ever.

So decades after she imparted that important life lesson with me, I sat on the hospital bed with a dying woman. I looked into her still brilliant eyes and that still radiant smile. I leaned down next to her, gave her a big hug and finally told her about her impact on my life, beginning with the words: Thank you, Mrs. Collins.

I then thanked her for believing in me when few others did. I thanked her for tutoring me when few others could. And I thanked her for loving me when I so desperately needed to know that everything would be alright.

I thanked her for dropping pebbles of encouragement, inspiration, knowledge, passion, and humor into my life. I thanked her for helping shape a man who became a college graduate, business owner, married a wonderful lady, had my own kids, and absolutely loved his life.

After I shared my gratitude, there was a long pause.

She wiped her eyes, smiled again and loudly proclaimed, “You graduated school?! There is a God and miracles happen!”

This woman exuded joy and humor when she worked with me as my teacher. She emanated that same joy, that same beautiful humor, until the end.

Mrs. Collins, thank you for stepping into my classroom and seeing potential. I remain grateful for your invaluable lessons on school and life.

And to all the teachers ready to step into children’s lives, regardless the challenges in front of us, we thank you for your effort. Thank you for believing in your kids when others may not. Thank you for loving them when they so desperately need to know that everything will be alright. And thanks for dropping pebbles of encouragement, inspiration, knowledge, passion, and humor into their life. They’ll certainly require it in this coming year.

As the 2021-2022 school year begins, now is the time to celebrate the teachers in your life.

Just remember that regardless the subject being taught, there is no finer foundation, no clearer lesson plan, and no more effective motivation than love.

A wonderful tutor taught me that lesson years ago. Our job now is to share it with others today.

This is your day. Live Inspired.  J

As the school year begins, let’s take a moment to celebrate the teachers who have most profoundly influenced us. Share your teacher’s name in the comments below and tell me a little about what made him or her so important to you. I waited 20 years to tell Cathy Collins. Can’t wait to hear about yours today!

2 replies on “The 2021-2022 School Year Begins: Let’s Celebrate the Teachers”

My teacher was John Wickersham, PhD. This year will be his last year at Maryville University at age 81. He is a philosophy professor who taught me in the seminary. He inspired us to love learning, to think before spouting an opinion, to appreciate beauty, to recognize the significance of a reflective life and to learn through the story of other people’s lives.
What a gem. To this day, I still engage in his “celebration of the senses “ practice to foster a love for the beauty and goodness that surrounds us.

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