When I was an eighth grader at St. Anthony of Padua School in Lorain, Sister Myra taught me and my classmates how to dance.
Not only did she lead us through her original choreography for a theatrical liturgical interpretation of the hymn “Here I Am Lord” (I, the Lord of sea and sky/ I have heard my people cry/ All who dwell in dark and sin/ My hand will save …), she also lined us all up to do a soft-shoe to the tune of Peggy Lee’s “Alley Cat” (He goes out on the prowl each night/ Like an alley cat/ Looking for some new delight/ Like an alley cat).
I still know most of the moves to both.
One day Sister Myra kept me after class to tell me that I’m smart, but that I really had to quit being such a know-it-all.
In life, she said, it’s not just about understanding the subject matter better than everybody else.
It’s about having your mind open enough to realize that the vastness of the universe is something none of us could ever truly comprehend.
All we can do is try our best to learn from and teach one another.
Sister Myra also told me that I was a pretty good writer, but that my grammar needed some help.
Maybe “stick to science,” she said, remembering that I had designs on becoming a doctor.
Ultimately, I ended up as a professional communicator.
If Sister Myra saw me today, I hope she’d be proud.
And she’d forgive me for starting so many sentences with the word “and.”
Working in the field of education for more than a dozen years now, I’ve learned a few things—some that I already felt deep in my bones, but that have been confirmed over and over again (I never did quite shake that know-it-all thing. Sorry, Sister).
I’ve learned that teachers are some of the most interesting, inspiring, and dedicated people that you’ll ever encounter anywhere in the world.
I’ve learned that in addition to being subject-matter experts on a wide array of subjects, they’re also nurturers and caretakers and motivational public speakers.
I’ve learned that they are always “on,” working late into the night, arriving to their classrooms while that early morning grayness hasn’t yet given way to the sunlight, staying abreast of current events and grading papers all weekend long, and planning the coming year through their summer “breaks.”
I have been the beneficiary of the work of some really amazing educators myself—women and men who have inspired me to try harder, question my own assumptions, read more, and put myself in others’ shoes.
My family is also chockfull of educators: elementary and high school faculty members, principals and other school administrators, college and law school professors, teachers’ aides, and more.
But my role in school communications has allowed me to work right alongside teachers in new ways. These days, some of my best friends in the world are teachers.
my best friends because they are so smart and interesting and just plain fun to be around.
They also helped me raise my kids.
Sometimes, they even did the bulk of that work.
They gave my kids new perspectives and new mentors to lean on. They allowed them to find paths in life that are separate from their parents.
As it should be.
In the last six months, I’ve also learned that teachers are some of the most resilient and adaptive people you ever want to meet.
Their entire profession changed overnight.
Teachers had to learn new technology and change their lesson plans and develop new ways to engage students through the unnatural barriers that screens present.
Yet they still found ways to connect that went way beyond the immediacy of teaching through Wi-Fi.
And now they’re welcoming students back to classrooms and smiling at them behind face masks.
They’re quasi health professionals, taking temperatures, performing safety screenings, and encouraging physical distancing, all while setting an upbeat and professional tone and inspiring students to ask questions, dig deeper, find their voices, and raise their hands.
Add to this the fact that the intimate work of classroom engagement is now being broadcast into the universe.
The entire profession of education changed overnight.
But the teachers I know continue to be calm and positive role models for their students.
They know that the tone they set makes all the difference in students’ lives.
Every day, we read stories about teachers who are balancing their own fears and anxieties about their health and well-being and ability to adapt to this whole new way of being.
And yet, every day, they still show up and show students by their hard work and example that education can unlock doors and lead us all to a better future.
Teachers know that they are preparing students to encounter a world they haven’t even contended with themselves.
So yes, they’re still teaching the idiosyncracies of English grammar and the complicated simplicity of the Pythagorean theorem and the boundless geography of a world that we may not be traveling for quite a while.
But they’re also teaching students how to see beyond themselves, to find new ways to analyze and improve their surroundings, and to discover ways to communicate and collaborate with all sorts of people.
The methods by which teachers do their jobs these days is certainly different from anything I remember from my days as a student.
The vital work of education has not changed, though.
It’s still a joyful dance, intricately choreographed by people who almost never take center stage.
And I hope you’ll join me in giving them the applause they so richly deserve.