The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. – Proverbs 18:21
As students (including my grandkids) return to school, I have found myself getting nostalgic thinking about the teachers who had an impact on my life. Two in particular – Mr. M and Dr. E – come to mind as people who believed in me, stood with me and even fought for me. Their support was especially meaningful because I had never gotten it from my family. I never felt worthy.
Mr. M was my high school band director. He was a recent college graduate whose Russian heritage was evident in his exuberance. He pushed us, and he challenged us. He sometimes even yelled at us, though his impassioned speeches – often littered with his favorite expression of “bird seed” in lieu of the vernacular – somehow felt more like pep talks.
He didn’t know about my mother’s alcoholism and the abuse I endured at home. He didn’t know I sometimes feared I wouldn’t live through the night. All he knew was I was a talented musician who couldn’t afford a high-end instrument, so he lent me his – for four years – and showed me grace at every opportunity.
As college approached, I remember being called into his office to play a movement from a Mozart concerto for a college band director. My fingers fumbled as I shook with fear. A few weeks later, Mr. M was in my drive-through lane at the Burger King where I worked. As he pulled up, he said, “I can get you a full music scholarship.” Somehow I managed not to drop his order.
I don’t know what he saw in me, and I doubt he remembers me, especially after all this time. In fact, over the decades, I suspect he has poured similarly into hundreds, if not thousands, of students. Still, his support was evidence to me of a God who loved me and wouldn’t give up on me. That was everything.
When I went to college, Mr. M was replaced with Dr. E. Like Mr. M, Dr. E saw something in me, or chose to, and he invested in me. He groomed me to vie for a prestigious scholarship. He gave me career advice. He hired me to babysit his daughter. He stood up to a colleague who threw roadblocks in front of me. When he sensed I was struggling, he repeatedly reached out to me. He even advised me against marrying the man who would become my abusive first husband. He was more than my instructor: He was also my friend and advocate.
These educators would probably say they were doing their jobs. But they did so much more. They spoke life into my heart, they showed me a path forward, and they taught me to persevere when I wanted to give up. I credit them, at least in part, with any professional success I’ve had because they showed me I had the capacity to succeed and gave me the tools to make it happen.
Far too many years later, I say thank you. Even after these reflections, they can’t know the difference they made in my life.
To the many teachers out there, follow their example. Speak life into the students God has entrusted into your care. Sometimes this requires tough love. Care enough to invest yourself not just in those students who promise the greatest return but also in those who can easily be forgotten. Be that Mr. M or Dr. E who leave an imprint on a grateful student’s path to success.
Most of all, seek to represent the Lord well, even if you’re unable to do it with words. Your students will see in you what you’re unable to say.