Learning from Every Teacher

Two boys smile with their teacher.
Will and Zach Samalonis work with their teacher Mr. Ygor Carvalho to build an arcade machine | Photo courtesy of Lisa B. Samalonis

The boys bounced around the back seat as I steered our SUV into the middle school parking lot.

“I hope I get the teachers I want,” said my older son as we raced to view the just-posted list of homeroom teachers and core placements. The lineup, which always went up after 3 p.m. on the Friday before Labor Day weekend, held the boys transfixed.

“Yeah, I want Mr. B. Everyone says he is so much fun,” piped up my younger son. “He has an Xbox in his classroom.”

This chorus had been playing all week in our home.

“OK, OK. We get who we get, and we will make the best of it,” I said as they scurried from the car to stand in line. They greeted friends as if they had not seen them in years, chatted with others and nodded to a few kids who walked back to the lot.

A fist pump, a smile, a high five … a new school term had begun. Through the years, my children have had teachers across the spectrum: loving gentle ones, taskmasters, jubilant kinetic instructors and rigid rulers. Our family has learned from them all.

Great teachers—the kids have had many across the educational landscape—have been gifts in their lives. They are not only teachers, but expedition leaders to unexplored worlds and coaches who are in their corner for one year or many.

Often, teachers and other school staff—aides, lunchroom and facilities workers, or assistants in the front office—are a beacon of positivity, a friendly supporting voice and a shining smile on Monday morning after a long weekend. For some children, they can be the lone bright spot in a hard life no child deserves to live.

The learning does not always come from textbooks. When one of my sons was struggling with a teacher’s style and the rules of her classroom, I dialed my older sister for advice. “Oh, yes. We had one of those,” she said. “It’s important to remind our children we cannot change the teacher. We must adapt.”

And therein lies larger lessons we have had to learn over and over again. We do not always mesh with everyone. Sometimes we must find a way to adapt and follow the rules, learn to deal with difficult people and make our way through.

When one teacher, whose name will forever be known in our home, had little patience for my fidgety fifth grader, we pulled together as a family. I advocated through the school system and gathered outside support. His brother buoyed him daily while my youngest learned to stand up for himself.

On the whole, this growth experience illustrated that we could identify our needs and communicate them while helping each other reach our goals and realize our successes.

Teachers share math, science and language arts skills. But they also teach students to understand situations unlike their own, to operate in a system and to continue on a lifelong journey of learning. The most powerful influencers become voices in our heads that resurface many years later, whether it is through a line from a poem, a silly song about science or a joke that explained the order of math operations.

Their teachings help us refine our language and our life. When children cross the stage on graduation day, it is as if every teacher is imprinted on them to carry forth for the rest of their lives.

The sum—as you inherently already know of course—is incalculable.

Lisa B. Samalonis writes from New Jersey, where she learned from some really great teachers.

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