Having “a bad day” is a luxury that, for 180 days each year, is not an option for a teacher.
Earlier this week, on historic Main Street in downtown Park City, I fell into fashion. The boutiques hosted an evening of shopping.
Emily, Tara and I went from shop to shop. While walking from Farasha to OC Tanner, a young man called, “Mrs. Hooker! You’re Mrs. Hooker.”
When I turned, he continued, “I’m Jonathan from your fourth grade class. Do you remember?”
Jonathan explained to my friends, his friends and me, “You are my favorite teacher.”
One of his buddies added, “Seriously. You are. He still talks about you.”
Jonathan is 24-years-old now.
“In third grade I had Mrs. Wilhelm. When we did something wrong, she made us turn our cards from green to yellow or red. I was so shy.” Looking at me, he asked, “Do you remember how shy I was?”
I remembered Jonathan’s quiet presence, mixed with a quick wit and intelligence.
Jonathan pressed on with his story, “Then, I got into your class. You laughed at my jokes when I said something about Democrats and Republicans.”
While Jonathan spoke, I watched my friends react with smiles. Both Emily and Tara are teachers. Younger than me, they have not had the experience of meeting a former student as an adult, as a peer.
Emily took my phone and snapped a photo.
Jonathan and his friends continued down the street to toward the Thai restaurant. We walked on to the jewelry store.
That night, when I returned home, I called Dwight. I teach because of Dwight. At the time Jonathan was in my classroom, I made less than $30,000/year and Dwight literally subsidized my teaching. He bought a library full of books along with beautiful art for the walls.
Jonathan reminded me that my students count on me. I joke that I don’t teach; I do three stand-up shows a day for very different audiences.
The reality is that my students need me to be “on.” While the content I teach is essential, the way I make a child feel is even more important.
I’m not perfect. I do have bad days. But, I make a conscious choice to leave my unhappiness, worry, and angst at the door when I walk into my classroom.
There are, however, days when my fuse is short or I’m sick. (Yes, I know we tell students to stay home when they are sick, but as a teacher, it is too difficult to script a lesson for a substitute. It is easier to show up and teach.) On those days, I tell my class that I do not feel well and my tolerance level is low. In return, they are compassionate and understanding.
Thank you, Jonathan, for reminding me that being an effective teacher requires being present and laughing.