PUTNAM: Impact of good teachers can’t be overstatedI suspect teachers have encounters with former students after years and decades have passed. Last summer, I recall witnessing such an encounter.
By: Neil Putnam , Guest columnist
I suspect teachers have encounters with former students after years and decades have passed.
Last summer, I recall witnessing such an encounter.
I was attending a regional meeting with fellow state school board association leaders. One of the presenters was a leading policy adviser for a national elected official’s organization, and she talked about national and state education policy. She was very well prepared, articulate and has become a recognized national expert in her field. She is also an elected school board member and state president of her state school board association. Even more interesting was that she is from South Dakota.
During her presentation, she paused and recognized a gentleman who was sitting next to me. He was her former South Dakota high school teacher and debate coach; I will refer to him as Mr. W. During the breaks, leaders from the other states approached our delegation and noted the odds of these two individuals meeting. Mr. W was visibly proud of his former student in this most unlikely venue. The former student and teacher had some time to reminisce and inquire about their lives beyond high school. The former student spoke of her days in his classroom and how he challenged her to work hard which no doubt attributed to her successful career.
I found this twist of fate ironic because their paths crossed in high school and decades later they both have become respected voices in education policy and strong advocates for kids. I was honored to see this special moment between these two individuals. Witnessing this reunion reinforced my strong appreciation of teachers and the awesome responsibility we bestow on them. I took great pleasure in watching the joy on the former teacher’s face and listening to his giddiness about his career choice.
I have subsequently had conversations with Mr. W about our mutual interest in education and I find his passion for helping kids succeed contagious. He once shared a story about how he helped a struggling student who was arriving to school hungry and how it was affecting the student’s grades. He took the extra steps to make sure this student was fed and his learning enhanced. Mr. W’s career was primarily in upper grades; however, he also enjoys helping out in his wife’s elementary classroom.
Mr. W is one of many educators whom I have encountered that uses his passion for education and compassion for kids to promote the value of a high quality education for all students regardless of their means, abilities and circumstances.
As a school board member and a parent, I have become acquainted with many educators like Mr. W. As result of this experience, my confidence in our education system, particularly in our community and state, has been reinforced. I am sure educators could share all kinds of encounters of former students that have provided them gratification and assurance they are making a difference one student at a time. I share this story of Mr. W to encourage you to take this time during National Teacher Appreciation Week to thank a teacher who influenced you or your children. I want to thank all teachers whether they’re in a preschool to post-secondary for all they do. I also want to thank those who have taught, are teaching and aspiring to teach.
On behalf of your students, Mr. W, thank you for your dedication to the educational profession and the inspiration you are providing to all in helping our kids succeed in and out of the classroom.
Neil Putnam, of Mitchell, is a member of the Mitchell Board of Education.
This column was intended to publish last week during National Teacher Appreciation Week but, due to technical difficulties, was not received in time.