As we celebrate teacher appreciation week, the Parent Teacher Fellowship at my school has set aside today as a moment for students to stop and write a brief note of encouragement for their teacher. So, in that vein, I’d like to write a quick note about a teacher who will never see this.
I don’t remember much about her. She was tall with short grey hair. It was my third-grade year and her final year as a teacher. She was retiring. This was her second act as she had already retired from life as a Catholic nun. Her name was Mrs. Navarros. Honestly, I doubt that is even how to spell her name.
As you have probably already guessed, she was one of those teachers. I will never forget the day she took me aside after a long day of school. That day was especially rough as I was getting picked on. If I recall correctly, it was something about the clothes I was wearing. Coming from a poor family and a frequently unemployed father, I never wore designer clothing or anything close to it. The cruel taunting hurt. But, I cannot recall, for the life of me, anything those kids said. But I will never forget what Navarros said…
She called me to her desk after all the other kids had left. She pulled me close to her side as it was obvious I was sad. She tried the best she could to encourage me. At one point she took a newspaper from the top of her desk and held it up. She said that one day, in a paper just like the one she was holding, she looks forward to reading about something great I would accomplish. For the rest of the day I thought about all the things I could do to get into the paper someday. Most of these ideas bordered on the outlandish as my third-grade imagination was quite large.
The years went on and I didn’t think much about that moment much at all. Fast forward to 2007… I had just announced my long-shot, third party run for Congress. I was with a few friends picking up some supplies from the local grocery store when I saw it. It seemed to be beaming with light. It was the latest edition of the Boston Herald. There it was, standing before me, a major newspaper with short story all about me and my campaign. It even featured a small picture. I picked it up and instead of thinking how this would affect the campaign, my mind immediately went back to third grade. I wondered if she was alive to read this. Probably not, I imagine but I would like to think she would have been proud. That insignificant, poor little kid, picked on by his class, had done something worth-while with his life. With a smile on my face, I simply said “thanks,” to the confusion of those around me…
The difficult thing about being a teacher is that no one remembers the academic lessons you teach. I cannot recall one single lesson, Mrs. Navarros taught about math or history. But, thanks to her and many other teachers, I know math and history. Some of these things are so basic to me now, I have no idea where they came from as they just seem like things I’ve always known. Who really remembers the day they learned that one plus one equals two or that we breathe oxygen from the air? But, we learned these facts thanks to the daily routine of teachers who will never be fully appreciated for all their hard work.
No, I don’t remember any of these lessons, but there was one lesson Mrs. Navarros taught me that day – I mattered. Fellow teachers, what you do matters. Thank you for everything that you do, most of which goes unnoticed. As a teacher now myself, I guarantee that Mrs. Navarros had no idea of the impact that one little conversation had on me. She was just doing her job. Just doing your job matters. In a life filled with IEP meetings, lesson plans and disciplinary issues its those little things you don’t plan or even realize you are doing that will impact your students for the rest of their lives. You don’t notice it and those students may not ever realize it. But, remember, what you do matters.