Amidst the world population that passes on and leaves us, there are teachers there in the mix. Educators of generations past, present, and ideally, future, are not without mortality, just as anyone else. But there’s something extra that teachers can provide during their time as the leaders in our quest for knowledge. Sure, we encounter countless people in our daily lives – the neighbor in your apartment complex, the deli clerk who always takes your coffee and bagel order, the woman who is always at the bank just five minutes before it closes on Friday – and yes, those people leave impacts of their own in a person’s routine. However, teachers can move beyond existing in a routine, to shaping routines yet to be experienced. Get assigned to, and learn from, an educator who thrives on inspiring those to whom they speak, and the anecdotes, advice, lessons, and emotional energies they impart can stick with a person far past when one’s time in a teacher’s classroom is over and sometimes, even remain throughout the course of a person’s whole life.
This was the case for me, on many an occasion, for I was fortunate enough to have many engaging, uniquely thinking, motivational teachers. Yet though I can recall special aspects of many teaching styles of personality traits from over the years, there are a select few individuals who really managed to make a space for their thoughts and philosophies which has, in my now very decidedly non-child life, lasted and influenced well beyond what you would believe it the chronological expectancy of such things. Not all my favorite teachers are gone but realizing they’re not forever help promoted this public reminder for anyone who’s had a good teacher in their life.
A single line, “I celebrate myself and sing myself,” from “Song of Myself,” which was part of “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman, remains a steadfast motto for retrieval anytime – but ideally every morning as that’s when it was assigned to be recited – after one, Sister Mary Ryan of the CSJ nuns in Brentwood, NY, told her class it was “homework for life” that we were to wake up each morning, take a deep breath, and say this phrase aloud, as to start every day of our lives with positive thoughts and a confident spirit about ourselves as we headed out into the world everyday. Such a simple offering but ask any of the hundreds of people who took her class, what they remember best, and odds are that straightforward statement rings high up on the list for sure. What did it have to do with Advanced Placement english? Not much past the fact that it was a line form a Whitman work. But whenever it comes about in my head, I’m reminded someone saw strength in myself and many other women, and just that reminder can get me through a tough day, or push me to go do that one thing that’s been put off over and over.
I could say the same for another individual, one who indeed just passed on. An organist, singer, and long time teacher, William Eidenback’s enthusiasm for teaching music was so exciting to feel in the classroom and learn from every week, that as an 11 year old, I’m proud to say stuck out enough in my mind to steer the very direction with which I felt I wanted to take my yet-to-happen adult life. There were other moments and other teachers who had initiated my love of music before, at ages even younger than pre-teen, but here was the time in my life when a spark became a roaring fire. I don’t remember every single facet of every single music lesson (it was general education so you can imagine there was a lot to cram into not a lot of weeks of class and most lessons didn’t get the opportunity to go very deep into any one topic of information.) but I remembered plenty about the things that were most new and made to fell exhilarating: theater, legendary singers, the power of things like music videos going viral (before “viral” was even a thing), and what can be achieved when you work hard as a group. Shy would have been an understatement in middle school. Putting myself out there wasn’t a thing I looked to do at every turn and the thought of doing so for a thing like a select choral group or in a creativity based radio project, were terrifying. But here’s the thing: my teacher, the one who not only handed out grades but was supposed to get me to retain things he said, not only did the latter but made the journey to do that – to remember things and to know them intimately – an exciting process. I was told stories of personal experiences with music; stories of success and failure, studying and screaming from frustration, and joy from first exposures to new arts, that if I was shown anything new in that music class, I wanted to not only understand it, but thrive in it. And perhaps the most pivotal of all that personal growth and drive to thrive, came in being shoved off a metaphorical edge into the deep end of a new singing group – not because I suddenly felt cool enough to be there but because my teacher believed I had the voice for it. He wanted to hear my voice in that group and said I would be good….
I have no need to go on with the stories of my grade school general music education class. That last part is everything: The person who led the room and who took on the responsibility of bequeathing new information to myself and several others, also made it his job to help us genuinely feel as overjoyed, thrilled, curious, and motivated as he was, whenever we were to talk about music, whether we were in class, spending time with friends, or just exploring things on our own. That’s what makes a teacher exceptional. It’s not just about knowing the most or teaching the hardest subject. It’s about making the people in the room care and care not just to get the grade and leave but to care way past when you may ever see them again and, know that’s what you’re putting out to the world. It’s just the same as when an artist releases a new song, explains why or what it’s about, and then just has to believe anyone who hears it will connect with that sentiment just as sincerely as they do. Real emotions carry and teachers who can channel their positive emotions into what they teach and who they teach to, are the ones that stick around like homework that’s forever.