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It’s Who We Are When The World’s Not Watching

It’s who we are when the world’s not watching that really matters.

I have been blessed to know a teacher who unbeknownst to him has inspired me to keep on teaching. Even when I don’t always like school. Even when I don’t always feel good enough to be a teacher. Even when I fail and mess up. When I am not where I’d like to be with regard to my lesson-planning abilities or my classroom organization. Even when I am not at my best with regards to my involvement in extra-curricular or professional development. Or with regards to the personal standards I have set for myself.

Because the truth of the matter is- there are days when I don’t bring my best self to the classroom. And I leave at the end of the day discouraged and wondering- is this the best place for me to be? Should I really be a teacher?

It’s on those days that a certain very exceptional teacher- Mr. M. has given me the encouragement to keep on going- inspiring me to be the kind of teacher that he is. For he is certainly one of the best.

It’s part of the reason I am still teaching, because of teachers like him.

Last night, I was part of a fund-raising event in which our school was asked to take part. As part of the event, the school choir was to sing, and Mr. M. Was asked as the school music teacher to lead the crowd in the singing of the national anthem. Mr. M. had asked me to accompany the children singing O Canada, so as to provide a bit of volume in case of a small turn-out. It would be my job to sing in the background helping to expand the volume of the children’s voices. Prior to the song, Mr. M. and I had the children contained in a small area, and a child from another school happened to pass by in front of us. Mr. M., recognizing the boy, leaned over to him and said to him, “I know you! Do you remember me?” The boy looked at him quickly and then with a bit of disdain brushed past him and replied, “I don’t have time for you. I’ve got things to do. Stop annoying me.”

I was watching the conversation unfolding as I stood beside the pair, and immediately, I turned to see how Mr. M. would handle his response. For I knew the impact Mr. M. has had on the kids in our school- the sheer number of children who had shown up to sing on a Friday night gave evidence to that. I knew that these same children had a renewed passion for music because of the influence of Mr. M. And I also knew that it was Mr. M.’s influence in his kind and caring way that kept the students engaged and involved in his program. It was him they loved.

Mr. M. is just that kind of exceptional person.

As I looked at the boy, wearing all that indifference on his young face- and I thought to myself: “Do you know who you are talking to? Do you know how much this man is loved? Do you realize that he is just about to lead a school choir in front of a large audience of people and he is taking the time to talk to you- when he could be spending his time talking to the event organizers? Do you know who this man is?”
And as I thought these things, I realized something. This young boy- he doesn’t realize this; and perhaps the reason why is simply that he’s never known a Mr. M.

Children who are taught by the Mr. M.’s of the world may not all turn out the same. They might not all end up being musicians or connoisseurs of the arts. They might not all end up giving up an evening to be part of a choir singing at a public event. But you can mark my words of this: the students taught by the Mr. M.’s of the world are exposed to the extraordinary art of caring. And their lives are changed because of it.

The Mr. M.’s of this world don’t do anything different than the rest of us teachers- specifically. They are sometimes late for work. They can often be disorganized. They sometimes say the wrong things or make mistakes for which they wish they could have a do-over. Their lesson plans are not perfect. Indeed, they are not perfect in every case, in every situation. They are normal, in this way.

What separates the Mr. M.’s from the rest of the pack is not what they do- that’s not what make them so unique. It’s who they are that makes all the difference. The Mr. M.’s of the world have somehow figured out the secret. They’ve come to understand that excellence is more readily attained by being than by doing.

Being available.
Being kind.
Being compassionate.
Being transparent.
Being real.
Being thoughtful.
Being ourselves.

As I have said before (What Students Remember Most About Teachers), of all the students I know who have lauded teachers with the laurels of the highest acclaim, those students have said of those teachers that they cared.

And caring is something that transfers from the public to the private. When the world is no longer watching and the pressure is off, those teachers who show care and concern for their students are the one who are most inspiring.

I thought as I mulled over the incident with Mr. M. and the boy- that boy may have never known a Mr. M. He may have never had a Mr. M. in his life to inspire him to greatness. To inspire him to care. And perhaps the reason he was so dismissive- so indifferent was he has never known the tremendous art of caring and compassion.

What a tremendous travesty that is.

It is for this reason I stay in teaching. This is why I still choose to be a teacher.

Because there will always be boys and girls, teenagers and students of all ages in need extra-special caring and compassion. The lack of interest in their eyes might signal this desire. Or it might just be their attitude. Perhaps it will be their defiance or their careless insolence. It might be just the way they look at us, their teachers.

When that boy looked at Mr. M. and said those words, I noticed Mr. M.’s response. It was one of grace. Of caring. And all I could think of was this:

“It’s for you that must teach, must stay the course. It’s for you, Boy. Because if we fail to see students like you and extend to you our compassion and kindness, we have missed an important opportunity to touch a life. We do this for you.”

These moments in a teacher’s life- they are regular occurrences. There are so many opportunities to extend care and compassion and grace to our students. Opportunities that occur when the world isn’t watching, but are monumental nonetheless.

And for those children who have felt the impact of all the Mr. M.’s in this world, those quiet moments are quite possibly the only moments that they will remember.

Teachers: might we never forget. It’s who we are when the world’s not watching that really matters.

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