Editor Bob Sloan: Appreciating our teachers
Teaching is the most underappreciated profession. Yes, law enforcement, firefighters, nurses and many other professions are certainly underappreciated, but teachers, well, they are in a class by themselves when it comes to not getting the full credit they deserve.
These wonderful men and women take on the enormous responsibility of molding young minds. It’s no exaggeration to say that our future rests in their hands and their ability to teach not just reading, writing, and arithmetic, but to help teach morals, character, and values to the ones who will one day be the leaders in our communities, our state, and even our nation. Yes, I know that those things - morals, character, and values - should be and need to be taught at home or in church. Consider for a moment where these young people spend the majority of their time each weekday – in school and in the classroom.
Teachers can and do have such a profound impact on their students that their influence goes well beyond the classroom. The lessons they teach can last a lifetime. Here are two excellent examples.
I recently read a story in a major newspaper about a 75-year-old middle school social studies teacher in Montclair, N.J. His name is Dan Gill and he is about to retire after 52 years of teaching. Every school year he has made sure there is an empty chair in the front corner of his classroom, and for good reason. It’s there to teach a lesson about acceptance and inclusivity that can’t be found in textbooks.
“The chair symbolizes that we will always have room in the classroom for anyone,” says Gill. “It symbolizes acceptance.”
As a 9-year-old boy in New York City, Gill and his best friend at the time, Archie Shaw, went to a friend’s birthday party together. When they knocked on the door of the friend’s apartment, the child’s mother looked disapprovingly at Archie — a Black boy. She invited Gill inside, then told Archie he had to go home because “there are no more chairs,”
Gill recalls her saying.
Gill said he offered to sit on the floor and give Archie his seat. “She said, ‘No, you don’t understand. There are not enough chairs.’ ”
“That’s when it hit me,” Gill continued. “She was judging him because of the color of his skin. We gave her the presents,” Gill recalls, “and I said we’re going to go to my house, where there are plenty of chairs.”
That day stayed seared in his mind and influenced his desire to become an educator. When he began his teaching career 52 years ago, he began a tradition of telling the story to his students every year on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a way to “punctuate what the day means in the lives of ordinary people and how they should act when confronted with racism.”
He eventually added an empty chair to his classroom to emphasize the story and its lesson. The empty chair has been a part of his class ever since.
Over the years, the chair — and, more importantly, the story behind it — has resonated with students.
With his pending retirement, many students have come forward to share how important Gill and his lesson on the empty chair was to them and how it has influenced them over the years.
The second example comes from a kindergarten teacher in the little town of Dublin, N.C. Her name is Courtney Brisson and she taught my grandson when he attended Dublin Primary School about seven years ago.
Now 12, Julius still remembers Ms. Brisson with great fondness. He asked about her the other day and said he would love to talk with her again and to tell her thank you. I looked her up online and she still teaches kindergarten at Dublin Primary. I sent her an email explaining who I was and asked if she remembered Julius. I told her that she had really made a lasting impact on him, that she would be proud of him, and that he would love to speak with her.
This is the email she sent me back:
“Yes, sir! I will never forget Julius. I would love to see him. Julius made an impact on me too! I knew he would do great things. This blesses my heart so much. The days are long (especially with the first few days of kindergarten with 22 students), and this was just what I needed to be reminded that I am making a difference.”
To all the Mr. Gills and Ms. Brissons out there who go above and beyond to impact and influence young lives, thank you. You are making a difference – bigger than you realize.
Folks, please let you children or grandchildren’s teachers know that their long hours and hard work are appreciated.
Contact Editor Bob Sloan at editor@florence>