“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the  sea”

— Antoine de Saint-Exupery

When I read this quote, I thought of all the amazing teachers who were a part of my own education and the education of my children.  I thought of all the teachers I know whose passion for education makes their eyes sparkle and whose love for their students rings out like music when they speak of their work.  I also thought of the less-than-amazing teachers — those who walked in the door every day and put in their time teaching facts and figures that we learned for the test and then put aside.  What is it that makes a teacher shine like a lighthouse beacon that guides us through rocky waters to a new and distant shore?

I remember my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Garrigan.  She was enthusiastic and kind and beautiful — although I really can’t picture her in my mind.  I think her beauty lay in her eyes and the way they twinkled and danced with excitement when she introduced us to a new idea.  Some people teach Reading to children.  Some people teach children to read.  Mrs. Garrigan drew us into the subject matter, and we certainly did learn what we needed to know; but she never failed to recognize each child she taught as an individual.  She never tried to fold us until we were small enough to fit into a box labeled “student.”   Instead, she encouraged us to come out of the limits created by things we already knew and to find the dreams that would make us thirst for more.  Mrs. Garrigan wrote on my fifth-grade report card that “Pammy has a flair for creative writing.”  I think of her often as I bring my ideas to life in print, and I wonder just how much influence her recognition and encouragement had on my love of writing.

Not all good teachers do their work in classrooms.  I think now of my eldest son, Max — a multi-talented man who sometimes shines as a singer/songwriter.  My mind drifts back to the carefree days of his childhood, when I would pull out my guitar and play and sing songs from Sesame Street or Peter, Paul, and Mary.  Max would jump and dance, much like his own sons do now, sharing the joy of music-making.  I suppose I could have explained to him exactly how to hold a guitar and where to place his fingers, but he was only three and not yet able to coordinate such fine movements.  Instead, Max would walk right up to my guitar and, reaching out his little hand, pluck the strings as I held the chord for him.  His eyes would dance with the delight of making music, and the thirst for more began to grow before he ever recognized it.

The last thing I have learned about great teachers is that they never stop teaching.  I think of Gloria, my next-door neighbor who had retired from teaching due to medical problems.  Although her limited vision made many learning activities difficult, I remember a day when she saw my son in the yard, looking at an anthill.  Gloria disappeared for a moment and returned with a magnifier.  “Here,” she offered, “look through this;” and as my son watched the now-giant ants carry specks of dirt from the tunnel they were building, Gloria stood by and told him all about ants.  I don’t suppose he ever has forgotten that day.

Do you have something to share that you really love?  If you do, then you could be a teacher.  We all have opportunities every day to bring the things we love to others and offer them the chance to dream.  If you can take your own experience of the excitement and passion of pursuing a dream and light the way for another to find his own dream, then you just might be a teacher.