When the Teacher is Ready


When I was a teacher, this was a bittersweet time of year. Spacious summer days were diminishing to the daily routine circumscribed by hourly school bells and small boxes in a big book of lesson plans reduced further to prescribed goals, but balanced by the excitement, love, and mystery generated by discovering unique teacher-student relationships and the prospect of a wide-open new year of traveling together in our learning.

I sensed this meeting of beginnings and endings in my husband’s energy as he bustled to complete house and garden projects before rejoining his faculty this past week.

I already miss Phillip’s constant easy presence and the time for spontaneous adventures we’ve enjoyed during his summer break, and sometimes I miss teaching…not the endless meetings or the mind-numbing impediments bureaucrats use to block the profession’s creativity and growth, but the intimacy of relationships, the give and take, the teaching and learning and surprises each year brought.

One of the lovely gifts derived from my many years of teaching has been the joy of watching my former students blossom into maturity, becoming parents, professionals, and compassionate adults. Many of them e-mail me, or let me know through social media how they’re doing and I’m always happy to hear from them.

Then, there’s Kate.

Kate has always been more than a student to me…she stole my heart even before she entered my classroom. At this time, I worked at a small school, grades K-8, and we had the luxury of watching students “grow up,” knowing their families, and forming strong teacher-student-parent relationships.

One day I was outside, monitoring the playground during the noon hour, and Kate arrived at my side, a curious, opinionated, funny, and bright 7-year-old. Some kismet brought us together. I was charmed, and although professional discretion was always honored between us, she somehow became one of those happy students who visited my classroom after school to tell me about her day, or share her ideas about books, or films. I can’t even remember now if I left that teaching position before she was actually my student, or if I served as her teacher when she began middle school.

At some point as she finished middle school, Kate began writing me e-mails, updating me about her learning and life as a student, and we kept up this correspondence through her high school and college years. Occasionally, we’d meet for lunch, or go on an adventure, and I’ll always remember her kindness in visiting my mother at the dialysis center. She’s always seemed a merry “old soul” to me.

Her wonderful parents invited us to Kate’s college graduation party, and I gave her a printed copy of our years of e-mails, chronicling her wonderful development into a mature young woman, one who has since moved to the East Coast and begun her professional career as an editor.

She was home this weekend, and I was deeply touched that she saved a day to visit me.

She is not my daughter, but over the years, Kate has taken up residence in that part of my heart I always reserved for the daughter I’d hoped to have.

It may be, as the proverb states, that when the student is ready, the right teacher will appear, but I count my blessings that one day on a school playground, something in my spirit and heart made me ready to welcome Kate into my life. She has taught me so very much, and I am grateful. The best relationships have this reciprocal flow of learning and teaching between those involved, I think.

So I send my blessing to all teachers as they begin a new school year, especially the dear souls who continue to live out this profession in my home state, where the past few years have brought denigration to their efforts. Budgets and programs are cut, classrooms are overcrowded, collective bargaining is destroyed, and salaries and benefits are precarious.

But you show up. You plan and hope and open the door every morning, welcoming the happy, the sad, the hungry, the lost, the eager and bright…and you supply what you are able, and more. You feed their minds, and their hearts, and their spirits, sometimes at the expense of your own.

I wish you a year of gentle peace, happy surprises, sustained energy, and compassionate relations…and I wish all of you students like Kate, who come to learn, but end up teaching you more about your own journey than you could have expected.


© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.

Not Just a Teacher

Early Saturday morning, Phillip and I sat together sharing coffee and one of our “good visits,” before we each lapsed into the comfortable silence long years of loving relationship can invite. Eventually, I asked him what he was thinking about.

“Pencils,” he said.

“Pencils?” Where could this be leading?

“Yeah…I was wondering why one of my kids never has a pencil in class.” He paused. “Is it because his family is too poor? Can they really not afford pencils?”

My husband teaches science in a small-town high school. He chose the district because of its small size, believing it would give him opportunities to know the students, their families, and his colleagues, that a mega-school in a sprawling district wouldn’t afford. In our state, this meant a lower salary than a wealthy, larger district could pay, but Phillip really wanted the sense of community and collegiality, so he took less pay and has been happy with his work and his colleagues.

He is a good teacher: eloquent, elegant, and focused on his students’ sense of confidence and delight for a subject area that gives Phillip joy, but what is most indicative of his approach as an educator is this sense of deep compassion for his students’ well-being, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

He’ll tease and joke with his students, but he will never bully, embarrass, or humiliate them. He’ll hold them accountable to high expectations for learning the material and fairly grade their effort, but students who earn low grades are as likely to hang around Phillip’s room before and after school as are the students who excel. He’s taught guitar to kids who asked to learn, not for a fee or because it was required of him, but because he wants his students to name and develop their gifts, whether those gifts are specifically science-related or not.

Last week, Phillip gracefully agreed to wear a ridiculous costume and return to school one night for a Homecoming Week skit some students had written. Another night he returned to supervise a class’s attempts at building their Homecoming float.

Phillip’s students do well, but it pleases my heart that he is remembered for his kindness. Former students drop by our house at holiday and vacation times to share their current adventures, studies, and goals, and Phillip welcomes them with the hospitality I imagine he showed them when they were high school students. Above all, he is a good listener; he holds their stories in the high regard they deserve, and so teaches his kids the very important lesson that they matter. Regardless of their home situation, their academic success or lack of it, their social standing, their physical appearance or athletic prowess, they matter. Their feelings and thoughts are worth being heard respectfully and considered deeply.

Like most teachers, Phillip’s time away from school is often spent preparing for the next class, the next week, the next year. But this means so much more than taking ongoing classes, designing curriculum, reviewing learning materials, and updating licenses. It means lying awake at night and worrying about ways to connect with students who are troubled or lonely. It means planning for meetings with parents who are angry, abusive, demanding, or distant towards their children.

It means pondering and creating a way to preserve a child’s dignity while giving him a coat, a meal–or a pencil–that will boost his spirit, ensure his physical comfort, and allow her to feel important, safe, heard, and ready to learn.

One moment of such regard can change a life; I have seen it and heard it over and over from people engaging in life review as their death takes shape and approaches. People recall moments when a teacher’s glance, note, comments, praise, and focus changed their lives. Altered their lives’ direction. Saved their lives. Or made them the person who could save his or her own life. Of course, a teacher’s neglect and negative energy can do great damage, but the well-intended and good educators far outweigh the bad, and we know it.

Teachers have recently, again, come under fire undeservedly and simplistically, as scapegoats for others’ poor decisions. The list denigrating educators is endless, vague, and finally illogical, like blaming the poor for Wall Street’s greed. Teachers stand out as easy targets for the bullies and crooks who sadly wield power in much of our current government and media, and we should beware of such behavior and castigation of their efforts and energy.

We are quick to call police officers, fire fighters, and military personnel our heroes, but every day, in myriad classrooms, teachers are offering the look, the comment, the listening–and the pencil–that saves a life and tells a child she is important; he is heard; they matter.

I married a teacher. He is intelligent, funny, and compassionate. He listens deeply, and tends his students’ learning and sense of self-worth diligently. He values their minds, bodies, and spirits. He safeguards their dignity.

He is my hero.


© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.