Tuesday, May 7, is National Teacher’s Day in the United States. Ever since the tragic shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School last December 12, I have been thinking a lot about teachers and all that they give to their students, from a listening ear to loving discipline to school supplies purchased with their own meager earnings. Virginia Leigh Soto was one of the teachers who gave her life at Sandy Hook. She was shot as she used her body as a shield to try to protect several of her first grade students. (Here’s a lovely article from CNN that recognizes all of the heroes on that sad day.)
In one of the many news stories that followed the shooting, I heard someone describe one of the teachers as childfree but “she treated all of her students as if they were her own children.” They might have been describing Ms. Soto. She was only 27 at the time of her death, so perhaps she would have had children of her own one day, but I would argue that her love for her students was independent of any parenting experience. That’s my experience of most teachers, and it is evidence that flies in the face of the old “you wouldn’t understand unless you’re a parent” accusation we all have heard.
As I thought back to the beloved teachers of my youth, I wasn’t surprised to realize that almost all of them were parents or would go on to become parents. Except for one: Mr. K. Both he and his wife were teachers; he taught English Composition to high schoolers and she taught elementary students in the inner city. Perhaps they couldn’t have children of their own. Perhaps they looked at their combined incomes and decided raising children wasn’t in their budget. Perhaps they both loved their work so much that they wanted to dedicate all their creative energy to raising good students. I’ll never know the answer, but I do know that they were both were respected and adored by their students.
Mr. K was the first teacher who truly saw me and my potential. “You’re a good writer,” he said to me on that fateful day, “but you have some work to do.” Previous English teachers had strongly discouraged me, to the point that I had given up and was just hoping to pass the required courses. With Mr. K’s encouragement and guidance, I worked my tail off to learn and improve. I am a professional, published writer today because of the seeds he planted and nourished.
Fortunately I had an opportunity to thank Mr. K before he passed away 20-some years ago, and I like to think his spirit has celebrated my successes. Next Tuesday I’ll be looking around at the other teachers in my circle—both parents and cheros (heroes who happen to be childfree)—and thinking about how I might acknowledge them. “Thank you for your sacrifices. Thank you for your passion. Thank you for loving the students in your care as though they were your own children.”
I invite you to join me in this little campaign of thankfulness for the teachers of the world. And, if you are a teacher yourself, I have a message for you: I appreciate you and all that you do.
Kathleen Guthrie Woods is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She is mostly at peace with her childfree status.