My dad has always been my superhero. He was the first man I ever loved and the first man I knew that would always have my back. There is something truly special about the bond between a father and daughter. I realize that so many individuals do not have that blessing. There is a sense of security and safety associated with having your dad in your corner. For me, if I knew my dad was in the house, I felt safer, like he wouldn’t let anything happen to us. As a little kid, you thrive off of knowing your dad would drop everything if you needed him to. I was blessed with a dad who repeatedly said, “If it’s 3 in the morning and you need me to come get you, call me, and I will.”
My dad was an only child who grew up in Zeeland, Michigan. He met my mom as a high school senior. They dated off and on for 8 years, and then got married. He started his teaching career back in the 1980’s. 37 years he taught in the small town of Middleville Michigan. A corn field accompanied one side, and a farm and fields accompanied the other. The library, football field, high school, and elementary school were all within walking distance. You might not have known everybody personally, but new traveled fast. He loved teaching and was good at it. He made sure to give his students the utmost respect so that In return, they would respect him too.
Countless students have walked through his classroom doors, countless kisses were shared between my parents as they said good-bye every morning before he left, countless handshakes and high fives were given, and many books were read as he not only taught his students, but he invested in their lives. He was a teacher who valued the importance of character, not just if they could ace a test. He overflowed that teaching style into our homeschooling studies as well and I will always appreciate him for that.
After 37 years, he closed his books for the last time. It is unfortunate that the restrictions put on by the corona virus, restricted him from saying good-bye to his last class. He had closure, but not in the way any of us thought he would. He knew this was the right thing to do, and at the right time, but emotions were definitely high. How do you say good-bye to something that you have loved doing for 37 years? My statement to him was, “The reason this is so hard on you, is because you loved what you did.” Loving what you do makes a world of difference in how you do your job.
Here are 5 things my dad taught me about teaching before he closed his doors for the last time.
1. Value the Student, Not the Test Score
Teachers have a rare role. They have the opportunity to invest in these kids lives, more than most people. They have them for eight hours a day, five days a week, for the whole school year. You get to know them really well if you take the time to do so. That was how my dad decided to approach his teaching career. He valued the student and who they were, more than just trying to get A’s out of them. Kids learn at a different pace and as a teacher, you have the ability to invest in their lives and help them to learn in a way that makes them love learning, not hate it. You have the opportunity to take the time to ask about their day, get down on their level, make eye contact with them, and help them to see that they are seen. How they are more than just a number or grade at the top of their paper. That is a connection that my dad made an effort to make on a daily basis.
2. You Always Have Enough Time
One thing my dad taught me about the way that he taught, was that you always have enough time. As busy as your day technically is, it only takes a moment to slow down, look into their eyes, and let them know that what they are going through is important. What they need to talk to you about is important. He taught me that you should not brush off a conversation that student wants to have with you because “you don’t have enough time for it.” My dad always made the time and that is something that I learned from watching him interact with his kids. No conversation was too small for it to matter to him. It showed too, because no matter how long any of his students had been out of his classroom, they still made a point to acknowledge him.
3. Ignite A Love For Reading
One thing my dad always tried to instill in any students that came through his doors, was a love for reading. He would read aloud to his class and whenever they had quiet time, he instructed them to pick up a book. Even if it wasn’t a classic like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” he still wanted them to get familiar with the concept of picking up a book before anything else. He was the match that tried to ignite the young minds in his classroom with a love for reading. He did that with us as kids too, which is something I learned from him and will treasure as I raise my own kids. Hopefully they will have a love for reading like my dad instilled in me.
4. Teaching Should Not Be Cookie Cutter
Teachers graduate from school with a general knowledge about how to teach a class. However, there is no set handbook that says this is exactly what you should do at this time. Teaching should not be cookie cutter. Granted, you have to make sure you get your math, science, and history in there to fulfill the requirements that the state has for that child to graduate. However, as a teacher, you have the rare opportunity to introduce your students to new things outside the natural realm of teaching. That was important to my dad and something that made me appreciate how he taught. It was not just about book learning for him. He had salmon in his classroom that the kids got to raise from eggs, all the way until they released them into the river; he taught them how to play chess and solve the Rubik’s Cube too. His focus was on making them love learning in general. He wanted to break up the usual flow of book learning and introduce some new and interesting things for them to gain a better understanding on.
5. Learning Does Not Stop
What I learned from my dad is that you never stop learning. Everywhere you turn, there is a new opportunity for you to dive into a subject or topic that you don’t know much about. Not only did he instill that mindset into us, but it was important to him as he lead his classroom. For them to understand that learning did not stop as soon as they walked out of the school building. It was something that would always be with them. He used his time to mold them into students who thrived off of learning as much as they could, wherever they were at.
My dad taught me some valuable lessons on what makes a great teacher. A great teacher is someone who listens, someone who communicates, someone who values the individual as a person, and someone who loves learning right along with their students. My dad is leaving a legacy behind and I am so thankful I got to see him teach during the prime of his career. He has taught me so much on what it means to love your job and to have a mindset that says “I get to go to work.” As he closes this chapter, it has been amazing to see all the lives that were touched and invested in during his 37 years of teaching. Even though he will not be going back to Page Elementary, I know it will always hold a special place in his heart….for all of us.