The Power of a Good Teacher

For almost twenty five years, I have ridden the waves of education.  I understand the need for accountability as I had my share of mediocre-poor teachers, but shake my head at the lack of foresight in the trend for more testing.  This blog is not about that.  I will save that for another rant.   I am not writing this as a teacher, but as a person whose home has been changed by a good teacher.  

My sixteen year old daughter, Lauren, has always lived somewhat in the shadow of her brother, just as I often found myself as number five in a family of more talented, more brilliant, more athletic, more everything older sisters.  Middle school was tough for her and despite us telling her how smart, pretty, and talented she was, I would often hear her say, “You have to say that.  You are my mom.”   Ugh.   Her lack of self-assurance sometimes lead to some drama within our home.  Neither of us is ashamed to admit that It became severe enough  to seek mother-daughter counseling on how to communicate better.  I would often say, “I don’t care if you like me now, but I want you to like me when you are grown and away from home so let’s work on this now.”   I honestly was often at a loss for what to do.   Things have changed, and I have one person to thank:  Mr. Mark Baker at Brentwood High School.  

Lauren was over the moon when she found out she had him as her AP English teacher.  I had heard him speak at Aaron’s National Honor Society Induction and found myself reduced to tears, grateful that he was willing to share his story of how he became a teacher.  She worked feverishly all fall in his class, never wanting to miss a single lecture, holding on to every word he spoke.  I went to open house just to see what all the fuss was over, and found myself almost in tears again as he talked about how the conversation at our dinner table would change this year.  I was the first to go up and shake his hand, not to ask how she was doing or what her grade was (note to all parents, we teachers do not like when you do that at open house night) but I told him that I hoped he could help Lauren dig deep this year into some emotions that probably had been buried since her Dad passed away.     I went home and admitted that I was in love with Mr. Baker  She laughed and said he was happily married, but that’s not what I really meant.  All parents long for someone to come into our children’s lives outside of our circle who will inspire them, challenge and encourage them.  I told her that I thought he had the power to do just that.   

It really started with the first email from him, not to tell me that she was missing work or that she was talking in class, but to tell me about her academic growth, her insight that she often shared in her annotations and in class discussions  Oh, I will forever carry with me the look on Lauren’s face at dinner that night when we talked about this email.  Then it happened again when she was asked to lead a discussion group.  It happened again when she went in to ask him something,  and he asked her to share with some other students her insight on a book or assignment.  Pure empowerment. 

Lauren gave me a book to  read from her English class, Things They Carried about a platoon in Vietnam.   The title refers to the various things, both emotional and physical mementos, that the soldiers carried from their past with them during the war, some of the things were a burden, others a boost.   The things that my Lauren carries are both a burden and a boost, but I hope she is learning to change her perspective about these things.  It is most certainly a burden to lose your Dad as a teenager, but my prayer is that she carries with her joyful memories and that it boosts her into being the best nurse and Mom that she can be someday.   It may be a burden to live in the shadow of a high-achieving older brother, but my prayer is that she recognizes her gifts and talents are just as worthy to the world.  It may be a burden to have to help out a very busy Mom, but my prayer is that Lauren someday understands my motivation: my hope that my children not live in the stories of their past, but that they understand that life takes many twists and turns.  These twists and turns can derail you or they can point you in a new direction.   I hope she understands the depth of my love and my admiration for how she is choosing to live her life. 

So thank you, Mr. Baker, for being a powerful teacher.  You have made a difference forever in my daughter’s life, in the four walls of this home, and in countless lives to come.