Emotional Health

One Teacher Is All It Takes

Teachers have been in the news a lot lately. Some have suggested that the way to prevent school shootings is to arm them with guns. Teachers themselves are not eager to start patrolling school corridors with automatic rifles. Meanwhile, “teachers have walked out recently in several states and the District of Columbia to demand livable wages, more funding for resource-deprived schools and/or school buildings that are not falling apart.” And some of these strikes are occurring in Republican bastions such as Oklahoma and West Virginia. They haven’t even been organized by Teachers Unions but have been the result of fed-up teachers not knowing what else to do.

This year, From May 7 to 11, we will celebrate National Teachers Appreciation Week. Such efforts may have lost some of their significance in an era in which everyone gets a prize or a special day. Yet, this is one we all should acknowledge. Teachers are hardworking and underpaid. They are also crucially important. And a great many of them are women.

Most of us can probably remember one special teacher who excited our imagination. Even those teachers that work in the trenches, teaching basic reading skills or arithmetic, can have a profound influence. Getting the right start in education, acquiring the fundamental building blocks, can put us on a path for future success. It turns out there is a correlation between the quality of our kindergarten teachers and future success. And the emotional impact of a good teacher, something not always recognized, can be priceless.

I had several memorable teachers. The first time was in 3rd grade when, as the school year rolled on, I slowly began to realize “Mrs. Chesney likes me.” In retrospect, I don’t think she singled me out, but I do think she was the kind of teacher who knew how to make children feel appreciated and valued. I hadn’t realized it had been missing, and though my earlier teachers were competent and kind, this feeling of recognition and acceptance was wonderful.

A landmark book called The Invulnerable Child (1987) asks the question: what factors account for the fact that some children flourish despite very disadvantaged circumstances and stress? Teachers and mental health professionals have long noticed that some children who grow up in horrendous circumstances that even have serious negative impact on their siblings escape “scars” and thrive.  Research pointed to one common factor: these children had a talent for attracting the attention of positive adults in their environment, usually teachers or coaches, and maximized and absorbed this attention, even if these positive interactions represented only a minor fraction of their day. They were like flowers that can thrive with only a slight bit of water and light, while others wither.

Join the conversation

  • Diane Dettmann May 4, 2018 at 12:42 pm

    Dr. Ford thank you so much for this article about the value of education and the important role qualified teachers have in today’s classrooms in America. An effective teacher who is committed to her/his students is a huge factor in their success now and in the future. Teacher Appreciation Week gives parents, students and community leaders a perfect opportunity to recognize teachers for the positive impact they have on students and their families. I taught in the St. Paul Public Schools in Minnesota for my whole teaching career. I am now retired, but I kept many of the notes of appreciation parents sent me throughout the years and enjoy rereading them. I hope Women’s Voices For Change readers will share your Teacher Appreciation article with others.

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