This morning, my son took his teacher a small present for Teacher Appreciation Week, and she turned from her own daughter to my son. She hugged him, really hugged him, like I’ve seen her do before. I saw his little arms—getting bigger by the day–encircle her neck, his sandy blonde head snuggling into her shoulder. Her eyes were closed. She was savoring the moment, as I would have. They stayed like that, embracing, and I could literally see in my son’s body how much he loves this teacher. He can read, write, and do math problems, and I have her to thank. But how can I ever thank her for loving my boy, this firstborn I’ve sent out into the world? This boy, once smaller, who was fresh out of diapers and had just slept his first nights in a big boy bed when I entrusted him to her pre-kindergarten classroom? After not trusting her at first, now, after three years, I trust her completely. She loves him. He’s safe. Happy. Learning. Becoming a boy who is thoughtful and thankful. She’s helped us form him. I have no words to thank her. Loving my child, my boy, is the utmost gift to this mother.
I had a teacher in third grade who played her guitar during the day and sang Simon and Garfunkel songs to us. I would watch her hands strum her guitar, her thick wedding band that reminded me of my mom’s on her finger. Her face, framed with her dark, curly hair, her lips forming the words to the song. I fell in love with her then, this teacher who taught us all the important academic things, but who also shared her love of music with us. She loved music; she loved teaching; she loved us. She will always hold a special place in my heart as the first teacher I truly loved.
Later, in high school, I had another teacher, feisty and passionate about music. She would listen to me, really listen to me when I felt as if no one would, and she helped me to navigate my teenage years, ordering pizza or bringing donuts as needed. She knew that food would fix many a teenage girl’s problems! She rallied for me, supported me, and allowed me to be myself with her. Spending countless hours away from her own, young boys, she taught me to sing, to smile when things felt tough, and to be a good friend to the kindred spirits I met there on the stage.
Both of these teachers and many others who have taught me were great academic teachers, but that isn’t what I remember about them. Instead, I remember that they made a young girl feel safe and loved, encouraging her to be her authentic self. This is what teachers do.
Like my son’s teacher, they sometimes turn from their own children to mother the children of others. I saw my son’s teacher do that this morning, literally, as she turned to hug my boy. But, she does it every day in many ways. She turns to do her life’s work—to attend and nurture her own vocation—while other teachers parent her small children in her absence. And if the teacher has no children of her own, our children become her own. I know this to be true.
Mother teachers teach our kids to be kind, gracious, strong, and independent while teaching them math, science, and the liberal arts. They stay up late grading English papers, doing their best to add insightful and inspiring comments, as their babies sleep and they should be, too. They make cupcakes just before midnight to take to a 5th grade class who was promised them. They leave their children in aftercare to work with yours on algebra problems after school. They pump over their lunch break so they can have bottles for their nursed baby, left for the day with a babysitter, so they can teach your children French. They curl their daughter’s hair, quickly, rushing to get her out of the door so they can come and teach your daughters how to dance. Even pregnant and sick with new life, they turn to teach your precious life how to play a new sport. They teach, wipe tears, and give hugs. They might not be perfect every day, but they apologize and try harder, and this is a wonderful lesson for your little ones who look at them with intent. These mother teachers study their subjects, devoted to this life’s work of teaching, so your child can love learning.
Without them, who would our children be? Without them, how could I mother my children at all? We give them our greatest earthly blessings and they treasure them, helping us to grow our seedlings into the beautiful flowers they become. They teach them to work when they need to and sing even if they don’t feel like it. They teach them how to do complex math and physics problems, read and enjoy literature, create art, learn languages, and write a paper. They teach them how to be a good friend and how to take a rest if the going gets tough. They teach them that chocolate can be mighty valuable for a kid who had a bad day. They teach; they mother. They do it every day, without fail. They take our children, making them their own for the day.
Without these mother teachers, I would be lost. They are my son’s teachers, my peers, my boss, my friends, and my family. From one mother teacher to all of you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week and Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mother teachers. Teach and mother on. We notice and we thank you.
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