I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
– Maya Angelou (or possibly someone else)
If there ever was a quote that represented teaching young children, it is this. This morning, I had the opportunity to attend a memorial meeting for worship for a teacher who taught kindergarten at school for longer than most can remember. The meeting was attended by friends, family, current and former colleagues, former students, and many former parents who were touched by her amazing ability to teach young children. I won’t try to steal all of the amazing stories told during this meeting, in which so many people shared wonderful memories and life lessons learned from her. The quote above, however, ran through my head throughout the meeting, and would not escape my mind.
The incredible influence accorded to early childhood teachers is also paired with a unique sense of obscurity; despite the fact that you are shaping a child’s mind when it is most malleable, there is a distinct possibly that they will not really remember you. When I made the decision to be a teacher, I remember thinking that I wanted to teach elementary education because I thought I could have a greater impact in the earlier years. Of course students might remember a moment or two from your classroom, but they may not remember you. I remember most of my elementary teacher’s names, but little about their teaching. It is a difficult realization to accept.
During today’s memorial, it became abundantly clear that the power of this teacher was not in her ability to teach students their letters or numbers, but in her ability to make them feel valued. Each person who spoke expressed this idea in their own way. Parents spoke of her ability to see their child not just as the parents saw them, but as the parents hoped they would be. They also explained how she taught the whole child and the parents, who are naturally in a parenting moment that can feel foreign and unforgiving. Students shared the love they felt entering the classroom each day. Colleagues shared memories of watching her teach or discussing teaching in a way that explained how the art of teaching is really the art of valuing each individual child.
When you hear someone speak about their kindergarten teacher twenty years removed from that classroom with memories so vivid and seemingly life-changing, among the words of so many, the impact of an individual teacher becomes so much more apparent. Each teacher may enter the world of education for different reasons, but the reason most stay is for the love of children.
This teacher knew as much, or more, about early childhood curriculum and pedagogy as any other, but it was her love of children that lives on. Her belief in them as people, not as five or six year-olds, but as the fully complex human beings that they are and can be is what made this teacher’s impact exponential. Even after her life has ended, the lessons she taught will echo through each of the lives she touched. The wisdom of her words and actions will be remembered by many. Not the least in part because the way she made everyone she taught feel – parents, students, and teachers alike – will never be forgotten.