“Mrs. Cork?” I thought I heard as I settled myself into a booth at a local restaurant with my family. I looked around, not recognizing anyone and feeling a bit confused. No one calls me Mrs. Cork; I must be hearing things! “Hey, are you Mrs. Cork?” a woman’s voice said, a little more insistently. Looking to my left, I noticed a young family. A mom, dad, and two adorable kids under three were waiting for their food. The kids were eating Cheerios, a standard “let’s just keep them happy until the food comes” tactic. The mom looked directly at me and smiled warmly. I nodded, smiled back, and picked up my menu.
“Did you teach English at Blue Valley Northwest?” she said. I said, “I did,” counting backwards to work out how many years it had been since I moved on. She introduced herself and said, “I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I was in your 5th period sophomore class the first year Northwest was open. My two best friends and I used to eat lunch in your room every day. Your class was my favorite! Thank you for being such a great teacher!”
I was stunned. She’d been in my class 9 years earlier? Once my memory was jogged, I absolutely remembered her. Back then, she was a shy, giggly, boy crazy, somewhat awkward 15-year-old with braces, and I was an overwhelmed new teacher with five different classes (or “preps”) to teach. Now here she was, all grown up, with kids of her own and with the confidence to reach out to a teacher she had for one class nearly a decade before. My heart leapt at the reconnection.
Later, at home with my family, I reflected. I doubt she remembered (or loved) To Kill a Mockingbird. I’m not sure she remembered my unit on literary archetypes. I don’t think she saved her “50-Mile Project” to pass on to her grandchildren. But an open classroom during lunch hour made an impression. Having a safe place to land in a brand new school for a couple of semesters stuck.
Every year at this time I get a bit wistful. Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love what I do. Empowering children and women in India is my mission! But still, I am a bit envious of my teacher friends who are organizing classrooms, creating new lesson plans, and planning how they will create a community out of the students randomly selected to sit at the desks in their classrooms. They are wrestling with how to create a level playing field for all students, no matter their ability, home atmosphere, economic conditions, or race. Teachers are underappreciated heroes. Teaching – good teaching – is hard work. But it’s fulfilling. Investing in children’s futures doesn’t bring a big financial return, but that’s not why teachers teach. In part, they teach for little moments, like running into a former student in a restaurant and knowing they had a small part in that student’s story. That’s a return far greater than a financial gain.
COVID has changed a lot about school, hasn’t it? Teachers and students around the world have had to adapt, re-think, be flexible, learn new technologies, and try to plan in the midst of uncertainty and changing conditions. Frankly, they are tired. They may be a bit discouraged. At the same time, the teachers I know, here at home and in India, are still optimistic. They are anxiously awaiting that first day, whether it’s on-screen or in person, eager to know their new students. Eager to teach. Eager to engage.
Although school in India is still disrupted by the pandemic, with many inconveniences and downright challenges, the hearts of our teachers are strong. Committed. Faithful. Determined. Invested. Still, they could use a boost from this side of the world.
Would you consider making a donation to DFN in honor of a teacher who has impacted you? Or a student you love?
Just $25 can provide essential supplies teachers (and students!) need to start the year off healthy and happy.
Another great way to get involved is to encourage a teacher in India with your words. Just email us [email protected] and we’ll make sure your message gets passed along to a teacher in one of our schools. Your note will make their day!
I don’t know where my former student is now; I moved away from that community years ago. But I carry her (and hundreds of others, both at home and in India) in my heart. They will never be forgotten, because their lives matter!
PS: If you’d like to hear more about a teacher’s heart, check out this interview with one of our teachers in India, Mrs. Mizpah. You’ll be inspired!