Tuesday was evidently National Teacher Appreciation Day.
I am not a teacher, but I have long thought about getting into education at some point in my life. I think my older son Beckett would be an outstanding teacher because I see a lot of the same traits in him that I remember from my favorite teachers and some memorable educators he and my son Carson have had through the years.
A good teacher’s impact can be felt for many years. I can still recall moments with teachers that had a profound impact on me. Some memories had to do with education lessons while most had to do with leadership and character.
For my son Beckett, 14, he has a handful of teachers he still refers to in random conversations. Most of his recollections have nothing to do with core school subjects. He remembers certain approaches they taught him or impactful casual conversations that served as life lessons.
For Carson, 13, due to his special needs, school is another matter altogether. Nonetheless, there have been about a dozen teachers whose names I can rattle off who have impacted him and Pam and I as his parents. The common trait among these quality individuals was empathy and how they showed it to our boy and us. The special needs journey is complicated, but it’s smoothed when we have a supportive education team that recognizes his strengths and understands his shortcomings.
While I have not taught, I am a coach. I have coached hundreds of local kids while raising my own boys. There have been memorable seasons with responsive and dedicated players as well as some forgettable ones with stubborn and unteachable types.
In recent years, Pam and I have assumed leadership roles in the TOPSoccer program at River Soccer Club. TOPSoccer is a recreational sports program for those with intellectual, emotional and physical disabilities. We have been involved with the program for about 10 years, the last few leading the training on the field.
This program is near and dear to us. I have been thinking a lot lately about how we can do it better. This is not a league. It’s an hour session where we match up our players (who have a wide range of disabilities) with buddies (who are typically middle and high schoolers) and work through various drills.
Over the years, I have found pride in the connections made with the kids. I can typically bond with the players, even if it’s just for an hour on the fields. It has a major impact on me when a connection happens.
Over the last couple weeks, a new player has joined us with the most severe disabilities yet. Pam worked with him the first week, and there was a minor incident where she could have gotten hurt. I wanted to work with him last week. Despite best efforts, I just couldn’t get him to engage and stay on the field with me. He was struggling and I was sweating. It just wasn’t to be the first two weeks. We will try again, but the lack of success has been eating at me. With a few new tricks, I am ready to try again this weekend and have a positive impact on that family.
My wife Pam, who serves as a Court Appointed Special Advocate, recently attended a volunteer appreciation dinner for her tremendous contributions to our community. Included in a packet of things she came home with from the recognition event was a copy of the “The Starfish Story,” which was originally written by Loren Eiseley in 1969.
There are many adaptations of it on the web, but it speaks to the impact we can all have on others. It starts with one person. I feel like I missed the mark last week with that young soccer player, but it was not without effort and good intentions. I imagine there are good days and bad days like this for teachers who face unique challenges today. It’s often difficult to know the impact we have on other people’s lives, but I fully believe there are rewards to be experienced when the will and effort are there.
Along those lines, here’s an adaptation to share of the Eiseley’s essay:
Once upon a time, there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves,” the youth replied. “When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”
The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”