Many years ago, when our children were little and things were tight, our washing machine broke. When it rains it pours. I spent weekends at the laundromat – a perfect place to read while waiting for the wash to be done. A new book had hit the market, Chicken Soup for the Soul, by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. It was packed with short stories that were captivating; they made me feel good.
One story struck me like a thunderbolt. It is about a teacher. That story kept me going; and still does to this day. Every year as the New Year rings in, I read the story and I vow to be that teacher. She is my hero.
I don’t think people know she’s my hero. I doubt my own children even know; they would say my it’s my grandmother, Nan. And, so would most people close to me. Nan was the best grandmother, and what I learned from her shaped my character, taught me far more than even she ever realized about reading and art. She was strong and kind, and she always inspired me. She touched every part of my life. Nan was a superhero.
There are heroes, and there are superheroes. Just ask any 8-year-old. A superhero makes a difference to everything in your life, like Nan. A hero is someone who touches your life in a very specific way.
Heroes inspire me, because then I become a better teacher. That one person is a teacher in Baltimore long ago. Her teaching made me stop and realize what’s really important. When I read her story, I felt like I was walking in her footsteps. Well, I felt like those were the footsteps I had to walk in. I wanted to be just like her. I needed to be just like her. My throat still closes and my heart pounds when I read her simple story. It is in the original Chicken Soup for the Soul book, published in 1993:
Love: The One Creative Force
A college professor had his sociology class go into the Baltimore slums to get case histories of 200 young boys. They were asked to write an evaluation of each boy’s future. In every case the students wrote, “He hasn’t got a chance.” Twenty-five years later another sociology professor came across the earlier study. He had his students follow up on the project to see what had happened to these boys. With the exception of 20 boys who had moved away or died, the students learned that 176 of the remaining 180 had achieved more than ordinary success as lawyers, doctors and businessmen.
The professor was astounded and decided to pursue the matter further. Fortunately, all the men were in the area and he was able to ask each one, “How do you account for your success?” In each case the reply came with feeling, “There was a teacher.”
The teacher was still alive, so he sought her out and asked the old but still alert lady what magic formula she used to pull these boys out of the slums into successful achievement.
The teacher’s eyes sparkled and her lips broke into a gentle smile. “It’s really very simple”, she said. “I loved those boys.”
My copy of the book is worn, and the pages open-up to this story, because I’ve read it too many times to count. It changed how I looked upon teaching and children. I often write about an emergent or child-centered curriculum, and how that has led to the best learning. Well, now you know where it started. And, now you know who my hero is. If I can fill her shoes and give children the same love so they can succeed, that’s all I need.