I’m currently reading Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic, her national bestseller about the life and death of President James Garfield. In the early pages of the book, Millard recounts the accomplishments of one of Garfield’s contemporaries, Alexander Graham Bell. I was struck by a particular passage that describes Bell’s life and passionate pursuits.
Although in the public mind, Bell was now an inventor, he still thought of himself, and would always think of himself, first and foremost as a teacher of the deaf. Not only did he teach, but he trained new teachers. This work, which he knew would never bring him wealth or fame, meant more to him than anything else he had ever done. “As far as telegraphy is concerned, I shall be far happier and more honoured if I can send out a band of competent teachers of the deaf and dumb who will accomplish a good work, than I should be to receive all the telegraphic honours in the world.”
The heart of a teacher.
It’s clear that Bell was first and foremost a teacher. History books don’t expound on Alexander Graham Bell’s passion for teaching students and training new teachers. Instead, our textbooks emphasize how gifted he was as an entrepreneur.
Teachers do not currently, and most likely never will, receive reparation equal to the time, effort and pure heart they put into teaching students. Neither do they receive the admiration from the general public I think they (we) deserve.
I believe, however, that teachers are compensated in far more profound ways. Teachers live with the undeniable truth that they lay a foundation for a lifetime of curiosity, hope, creative anticipation, the importance of personal character, a sense of shared community and love of learning.
You see it all the time–teachers who give their heart and soul (and a sizable amount of their salary) for their students. I’m convinced that as long as there are teachers, we’ll see selfless individuals who give everything they have so that students are empowered to choose a better life.
Reading Alexander Graham Bell’s sentiments, I think of teachers in my own district who embody the spirit of altruism. They sacrifice willingly and without any thought of recognition.
- Mrs. P. spent hours by the bed of a young student throughout her devastating battle with cancer. Each year she still reaches out to the family of that beloved student on the birthday and anniversary of her death.
- Mrs. S. fills the trunk of her car with picture books and middle grade novels every summer and drives to the neighborhoods of her students. Her kids look forward each week to swapping books and making connections with their teacher and classmates during the long summer months.
- Mrs. L. now works at a central administration job, but leaves early every Wednesday to voluntarily tutor Spanish speaking students in math. She stays late to talk with parents about specific ways they can help their kids at home. She still reaches out to families from her previous bilingual campus by assisting parents in translating important school documents. The past few weekends she’s had several families in her home on Saturday so she can help parents complete their tax returns.
- Coach L. spent his own money over the years buying dress clothes for his athletes so they would have something appropriate to wear to sports banquets. He once heard that one of his students was sleeping on the floor at home and he made sure a local business delivered a mattress and bed frame.
It would seem the same heart beats within these teachers as that of A.G. Bell. They count it a privilege to nurture and mentor young minds.
Does it seem to be enough–the willingness to work long hours, to teach and guide students?
No need to ask.
Teachers don’t do what they do for the money. Or the recognition. To borrow Alexander Graham Bell’s own words; they are far happier and more honoured to accomplish the good work of teaching.
As it turns out, it is enough.
Which teachers inspire you by their selfless lives? What stories could you tell of teachers who give willingly without thought of money or recognition?