Before coming to work at Teaching Channel, I taught English for two years at a high school in Japan. While I was there, I thought a lot about what kind of teacher I wanted to be, and about the educators who have impacted my life. And while I’m so thankful to have been influenced by so many intelligent, passionate, and caring individuals, I found myself drawing parallels between my life and one person in particular.
Miss Farmery was my 5th grade teacher. We were living in Mexico City at the time, and I was not adjusting well. Miss Farmery’s class made me feel present and engaged for the first time in over a year. She regaled us with stories of the far-off places she’d lived and traveled, and introduced us to exotic things like Mondrian and the sitar. She was warm and funny and took a special interest in each of us, encouraging our strengths, and helping us to improve when needed.
It wasn’t until I became a teacher that I fully realized what a challenge it must have been for Miss Farmery. Teaching is hard in the best of circumstances. My 5th grade class was a veritable United Nations with different levels of English proficiency, forcing Miss Farmery to differentiate the content across multiple groups. The linguistic and cultural differences also made it difficult for us to gel as a class, until Miss Farmery brought us together in an unexpected way. Every day, while we worked in her class, she’d play The Beatles, her favorite band. One day, a couple of weeks in, we found ourselves singing along to the lyrics in unison, our first demonstration of class unity.
As brilliant of a teacher as Miss Farmery was, I know it wasn’t as effortless as she made it seem. One day she showed up at school with a little less sparkle than usual. Her father, who she was very close to, was having major surgery in England. As worried as she was, she showed up for class. She taught her class. She smiled and listened to us. I thought of her fortitude on the days in Japan when I missed my family and friends, and when I felt overwhelmed. And then I kept smiling at my students, engaging them in conversation, putting their needs first. Because I’d learned that that’s what teachers do.
Earlier this year, 40-year teaching veteran Rita Pierson gave a fantastic TEDTalk, “Every Student Needs a Champion.” In it she says, “we [teachers] come to work when we don’t feel like it, and we listen to policy that doesn’t make sense, and we teach anyway…. We are educators. We are born to make a difference.”
I’m thankful for all the teachers and former students who have made a difference in my life. To quote Rita Pierson again, “Teaching and learning should bring joy.” Being a teacher and learning from such incredible role models has brought me just that.