So this story ran in the New York Times in January: Students Learn From People They Love
I don’t believe it’s just coincidence that this story ran just two days after one of my favorite humans in the world (my mentor and former English Professor Dr. Mandana Nakhai) was honored for her service and her unparalleled dedication as an educator and administrator at Concordia College – New York. I like to think the universe has a way of connecting things like that.
I bookmarked this article. Printed it. And I’ve probably read it at least a half dozen times in the past month. I like the way it makes me think about all of the amazing teachers I’ve had in my life, the way it brings back the memories of what it felt like to sit in their classrooms.
The best teachers don’t charge ahead and clear the path for you, and they don’t take a seat on the sideline and lost sight of you when you stray. The best teachers are the ones who take the journey with you and walk the path alongside you. They are the ones who take the time to explain the unfamiliar road signs and delight in the fact that they get to continue learning something new along the way. And when you come upon a door that leads to a brand new opportunity, the best teachers will squeeze your hands and smile and remind you that you have everything you need to unlock the door and walk on through.
When I think back to all the moments and the choices and the people who got me where I am today, there is no denying that it was the emotional connection that really made all the difference. I couldn’t have learned unless I felt safe and supported in the classroom. I wouldn’t have gone onto college without the elementary and middle and high school teachers that went above and beyond just trying to teach me math equations or analyze the themes in Shakespeare’s plays. And I wouldn’t have graduated from college, gone onto get a Master’s, or pursued a career in higher education if it weren’t for the faculty and staff who invested in me, challenged me, and pushed me so far outside of my comfort zone that I sometimes have a hard time remembering what it feels like to be truly scared of anything.
And while I am so thankful for all the the things they taught me in the classroom, that’s really not even half of the story. I had teachers who helped me earn scholarships, who steered me toward opportunities to participate in prestigious writing programs, who helped me get published. I had teachers who helped me navigate volatile relationships, who pushed me get into therapy, who sat with me in the hospital until they knew that I was okay. I had teachers who helped me craft my first resume and cover letter, who invited me to dine in my very first Michelin-rated restaurant, who took me to my very first art museum and Broadway show. I had teachers who helped me piece together my first professional wardrobe and who (to this day) remain some of my greatest mentors and confidants and friends.
So, if you ask me what really makes the difference in a child’s education, you’re probably not going to hear me talk about the tests or the textbooks or the state-of-the-art facilities. Instead, I’m going to talk about the connections they can make with teachers, because from that love comes learning. And isn’t that really what it’s all about?