October 11, 2021 10:00 AM
Last week’s Courier Herald column:
I’ve spent much of the summer outside of Metro Atlanta. “Work From Home” is now more fully understood as “Work From Anywhere” and I’ve been long overdue to connect with the other Georgia.
“Other Georgia” is where I grew up, before Atlanta grew to the point of encompassing my rural community and making it another ubiquitous suburb. It was the kind of place where everyone knew everyone else, with the good and bad that came with that.
At one particular restaurant I’ve begun to frequent, I managed to strike up a conversation with a regular. He was having an in-depth conversation with our server as she appeared at the counter, and then we would return to chatting as she went about other duties.
It turns out his interest in her had been longstanding. She was his former student, and he – her former high school teacher – was trying to convince her to re-enroll in college. “She’s brilliant!” he went on to proclaim. “This is fine for now to pay her bills, but she really needs to be working on other things…”
I’ve managed to witness his gentle coaxing a few times now. Nothing heavy handed. Just a genuine interest in her current situation with frequent reminders that she has a reservoir of potential that she should explore.
In the same town, I’ve met another small group of locals who I’ve been taking in UGA’s epic football run on Saturdays. One of the group is a retired school teacher and administrator. Every week, at least one former student stops by to say hello. Grown adults pause slowly in reverence and always add the word “Mister” to his name when greeting him.
These types of events aren’t exclusive to smaller communities, but they’re easier to see and circumstances better allow for them. When everyone knows everyone, it’s a lot easier to form bonds between educators and those under their care.
The teachers have a much better chance of understanding what else is going on in the students’ lives. They know which families are struggling. They have a better chance of honing in on what each child will need in and out of the classroom to unlock their full potential.
On the flip side, the students often get to see more of the human side of their teachers. Most of us don’t realize it until years later, but we eventually understand that much like our parents, teachers are also those doing their best under wildly unpredictable circumstances. Some days they’re in total control. Other days, they’re just trying to hold it all together while trying not to panic those under their care by letting them see how out of control everything going on around them really is.
After one watching one of those football games, I took to Facebook to summarize my thoughts on the game, the SEC, and college football in general. I didn’t plan on writing a full diatribe, but I managed to put several points together in a reasonably coherent and flowing post.
One of those that commented was a former teacher. It’s been about 35 years since I’ve been in his classroom, and about 5 years or so since I’ve seen him in person. The magic of social media platforms is that, from time to time, we can still reconnect with our past, including those that helped set the tone for our future.
He noted general agreement, but also left a complement of how the message was written and conveyed. It doesn’t matter how many years have passed, it will always be nice to get good marks from your teacher.
I’ve noted many times in various forums over the years that public schools were a large contributor to who I am and to what I’ve been able to accomplish. This isn’t crediting a faceless entity or system, but to teachers, administrators, and support staff that as individuals chose to be an important part of our community.
It was and remains a credit to the parents, including my own, that participated in our education by knowing when to get involved, and when to cede to the educators. That remains an important compact for the premise of public education. This particular plank will be tested and discussed quite regularly in the near future.
Today, however, I’m wanting to emphasize that I’m grateful to those who expanded the role within their profession to be lifelong educators. To those who didn’t stop teaching or caring when the bell rang or when the final report cards were issued, I remain forever indebted.