We often find ourselves asking children what they want to be when they grow up, and they invariably come up with a familiar list of answers. Dreamy eyed, gap-toothed children smile as the tell us with confidence, “I am going to be a professional ball player” or perhaps, an actor. The more logical child will tell us that they want to be a doctor, a nurse, a firefighter, or policeman. A few of them will tell us they intend to become a teacher, and I nod my head in the knowledge that in fact each of them will become a teacher, whether they intend to or not.
It seems that a great many of us are not aware of the effects that our attitudes, behaviors, habits or reactions have on the younger generation. By working in our public schools, I have seen the great influence that we can have on a child, although it is often years later, if ever, that we hear about that influence. I was fortunate to hear the story of a child that I had worked with nearly a decade earlier as a “reading buddy”.
I had never realized that I done anything other than simply volunteer my time. A friend of mine, who was a teacher, was kind enough to share with me the contents of a report that one of my “reading buddies” had written. When asked to write about a person who had a profound influence on their life, this young person chose me. I was both honored and mystified,
The young lady wrote that I had done much more than read or recite poetry to her when she was a young child, she said that I had listened to her thoughts and fears, that I had given her a much-needed hug or word of encouragement. I listened, misty eyed, as the teacher told me that the young lady had been inspired by me to recognize her own worth, and see herself as strong, confident and capable. In my mind, I had always felt that the children I worked with had done much more for me than I had for them.
As a mother of six children, I had the opportunity to be both friend and mentor to many of my children’s friends and acquaintances. It is an honor that I am still called, “mom” or “Beebee” (my grandma name) by many of them. Now, years later, when I see their children’s reaction to a cross word or hurtful comment made in the spur of a moment, I remember, from years ago, that same look on their faces, the dejected, head held downward look, as they felt that somehow, they were not “good enough“, even for their own parent. It was profoundly sad to me that these young people were, without realizing it, projecting the same hurt on their own children that had bruised their young spirits years before.
The reaction of both my former “reading buddy” and that of the young parents I had know as children, simply served to confirm my contention that each of us is an example to someone, in essence, a teacher.
It is vitally important for us, as middle aged or older adults, to remember that what we say or do, how we react or even fail to react is being watched by some child, teen or young adult. That kind word, encouragement, or praise may go much further than we realize. Likewise, a thoughtless comment, an unintentional smirk or, worse yet, an immature reaction may make someone think it is “OK” tp behave in that manner.
We must always remember that to others around us, we ARE teachers, whether we intend to be or not. Let us always act in a way that will show our best to the adults or parents of tomorrow. Like water spilled from a glass, we never know how much our reactions may travel.