The Best Lessons, the Best Teachers, Last a Lifetime

Mr. Shingler had been my favorite teacher and coach.

But in that moment, I hated him.

It was eighth grade and, all year, I had been a starting forward on the basketball team. One week, though, I missed a game I should have made. The following Thursday, when Mr. Shingler announced the names of the starters, mine was noticeably absent.

At 13, it felt like total public humiliation, and I hated him for it.

“Being on this team is a privilege and a responsibility,” he told me after practice. “Show up for your team.”

Thirty years from that day, I stood in front of my son. He wanted to skip his soccer game. I wasn’t having it.

“You signed up for soccer, and your team is counting on you to be there,” I said. “You have a responsibility to show up for your team.”

Some lessons just stick.

The first week of May is Teacher Appreciation Week and, like everything in 2020, this year it’s bizarre.

It’s challenging to honor teachers properly when we won’t even see them again until next fall. (Please, PLEASE, say we’ll see them next fall.)

Social media will be filled this week with easy jokes. (“I TOTALLY appreciate teachers every day when I’m teaching my kids new math!” “It’s Teacher Appreciation Week. I wonder what my kids will get me?”)

In a topsy-turvy world, though, where suddenly parents are the teachers, too, I’ve been thinking a lot about the teachers I’ve admired and what makes them memorable.

Here’s a hint: I don’t recall the quadratic formula or what happened at the Battle of Antietam. I really only skimmed “Lord of the Flies.”

But somewhere between science, social studies, reading and math, some teachers impart life-long lessons.

Those are the lessons, those are the teachers, that stick with us.

Mr. Shingler taught me to show up for my team, and I’m grateful.

I’m grateful for Mr. Busse, who gave up his noon hours to help an insecure 14-year-old burdened with braces, a bad perm and questionable algebraic skills.

And I’m grateful for Charlie Wheeler, champion of every student who passed through his public affairs reporting program at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

As I graduated from that program in 2005, someone asked me what advice I’d give the incoming students.

“Appreciate Charlie,” I said. “No one in your professional life will ever care about you as much as he does.”

I don’t know who my kids’ Mr. Shingler, Mr. Busse and Charlie Wheeler will be. I know my kids will have them. Every child should.

What I do know, today, is that I’m deeply grateful for the teachers we have now.

My kids know precisely this about the current school year: School was in-person, then we had a few days off, now it’s online. They meet for a half-hour Zoom call with their teachers and classmates a few times a week and turn in some assignments. They get regular emails from their teacher that say “Good job!” or, “Could you write a few more details?” Then the day is over and they can get back to bike rides and video games.

That’s what our kids see.

But, teachers: Please know that we parents see more. We see you.

We know that, almost overnight, you revamped your entire curriculum and teaching practices, to keep on keeping on when a pandemic overtook the world.

We know you spent hours on the phone with IT people setting up the technology and making sure it worked, organizing the systems and dreaming up ways to make teaching-via-Zoom an actual, educational possibility.

We know you’re still constructing lesson plans, now adapted not just for different skill levels, but for different technology capabilities as well.

We know that, for every encouraging email you send our kid, you’re sending similar — individualized — notes to each child in your class.

Teacher Appreciation Week this year will be a bit of a letdown. There will be GrubHub gift cards, delivered electronically, in lieu of flower bouquets.

But, dear teachers, please know that our appreciation for you this year is unrivaled.

We parents see what you’re doing, and we’re so very grateful.

Our kids? They just feel your love.

And, wow, that’s everything.

Every day, on the other end of the webcam, your team of little people awaits, beyond excited for your call, your email, your knowledge, your praise.

Every day, your team looks for you.

Every day, you’re there.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Thanks for showing up for your team. Over and over again.
Kirsten is a native Wisconsinite who married a Brit, moved to England and happily ended up in Madison in 2010. She and her husband, Adrian, are parents to Sophie, Charlie and Susannah, who fascinate and exhaust their parents pretty much every day. A former newspaper reporter, Kirsten now supports mompreneurs through her website, motherbility.com. She's also a mini-expert on traveling with kids. (Always answer "Should we go to ... " with "yes." Bring toys, snacks and an excess of patience.) She and her family camp every summer, usually in state parks, because they love outdoor living. And s'mores.

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