the power of a teacher

May 8, 2017

Throughout my youth, and especially around the time when I eleven years old, I can only assume it was often challenging for my mother to find time to arrange the extra-curricular lessons for the four of her six children born at that time.

In the case of piano lessons, mine occurred during half of my lunch hour once a week in my Grade 6 year. This meant I had twenty five minutes to walk home from school and eat lunch then have my half hour lesson leaving me five minutes to walk back to school. Conveniently, the piano teacher lived down the street from us.

Squeezing that activity into a one hour “break” might not have been so stressful for one more resilient to overwhelm or had I enjoyed playing the piano but alas, I was not and did not. I enjoyed learning to read music but despite any practice I did, diligently or half-heartedly, it didn’t ease my frustration at having to make both hands work independently together to make a beautiful sound on the black and white keys.

It was like I had some form of manual dexterity dyslexia. Because I have decent rhythm when it comes to dancing, I may have been more successful playing the piano with my feet. Unjustly, my teacher told me often that I was clearly not practicing enough but, then again, I guess she didn’t realize that I was born with two left hands.

It was with the weight of this unhelpful assessment that I headed back to school after one such lesson when I noticed our family dog running around the neighbours’ front yards between my house and that of my piano teacher. A good dose of panic set in as I realized that I had five minutes to avert what I perceived to be a huge crisis which I’m sure I perceived regularly at that age. Nonetheless, in my mind, I had to get the dog back in the house before it got hit by a car, bit someone or was picked up by the authorities and taken to the pound and do all this while still getting back to school on time.

I don’t recall all the details of how that day actually worked out but I do remember one particular moment as clearly as if it happened earlier this morning. Breathless from running to school, I arrived to empty hallways and only distant muffled noises of teachers getting students settled in classrooms. I was late. If you’ve read any of my work before, you’ll realize how difficult being late has been for me. I stood outside my classroom door trying to catch my breath and pull myself together enough to walk into my class late when someone greeted me from down the hall.

It was my English teacher. She was an efficient woman with an unsentimental disposition. I don’t recall having any particular like or dislike for her as a person but I did love English class.

She approached me and asked me if everything was alright. As I told her my story, I tried to disguise the quiver in my voice. She calmly put her hand on my shoulder, told me to take a short walk down the hall to collect myself before I went into the classroom. She said that she would tell my teacher that I would be in class in a few minutes. And then, as I turned to go, she assured me that everything would be okay and that I could handle whatever else the day would bring.

It was what I needed to hear. In no more than sixty seconds of her time, she heard me, encouraged me and made me consider my own personal strength.  All in less than a minute.

She likely never noticed the one moment of the dozens she’d had that day or the impact it had on me. If I met her today, she’d not even remember me let alone the incident but, decades later, I still remember because she took the time to make a connection. On that day and in that situation, I was lucky to have her.

The long-felt impact of little moments in your day may never become apparent to you. But somewhere, in some situation, someone needs less than a minute of your time to be heard, encouraged and empowered.

Do you have one minute today to hear, encourage and empower someone?

Look around. Who is lucky to have you?

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