“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The senior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires. – William Arthur Ward, motivational writer

I sincerely believe that a good teacher can change the world, one student at a time. Ever the optimist, I still believe this is possible despite the fact that many American teachers are under tremendous stress today. Teachers are more valuable than ever.

Unfortunately, too many educators are overwhelmed. When my daughter’s rabbi recently asked how she was doing, teaching in-person classes in a public school system with high absenteeism due to the omicron variant, Rachel replied, “We’re like the band on the Titanic.”

Rachel is an elementary school art teacher for children in kindergarten through fifth grade in southern Alabama, but when the semester started after Christmas vacation, she was assigned to fill in for teaching. for a regular third grade class. She said around 30% of teachers, students, administrative staff, guards and bus drivers were sick in the second week. Rachel’s principal asked her and the other remaining educators to wear many hats just to keep the school running until they reached full staff capacity.

In addition to a seemingly endless pandemic affecting our teachers – some who are forced to teach virtual or hybrid online and in-person classes again – they are facing increasing misconduct from students AND parents.

I know former teachers who retired early or left education altogether because they felt the emotional and physical strain was too great. This left many systems in desperate need of teachers.

I have read reports of several states offering incoming teacher enrollment bonuses or accelerated student teachers and non-traditional instructors in the classroom.

Just last week, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced in his state of the state address that he wants to bolster the state’s education budget and offer pay raises. to teachers.

To be fair, the average child has also handled a lot over the past three school years. It’s no wonder young children are taking action. The problem is that there are too many children across the country who face lifelong challenges: poverty and food insecurity, abuse or, in the case of immigrant and migrant children, the language barrier. . Our teachers are often the only adults who consistently provide these children with a stimulating and safe environment in which to learn.

Rachel told me that many of her students this semester are new to the United States. Some come from Mexico and Central America, others from Vietnam and Cambodia. Who knows what these children may one day accomplish if just one teacher performs one life-changing act of kindness.

Rachel told me that a little girl cried all morning in class last week. When she took the child aside at lunch to figure out the problem, Rachel found she was upset because she was having trouble understanding the homework because she was still learning English. My daughter managed to make it clear that yes, learning a new language is difficult. Rachel said she understood what it was like, having lived abroad when she was in third grade. (Our then-military family toured Germany and Italy.)

Rachel kindly told her that it would be a difficult process, but she can overcome it and ask for help. And, if the little girl one day wants to go to university to become a teacher or other professional, speaking two languages ​​is a major asset. Rachel said her student was a whole different kid after their little chat.

Anyone can be a teacher and change the course of a person’s life.

The late great actor and director Sidney Poitier gave a television news interview a few years before his death. He talked about his youth as a teenager new to New York. He had a heavy Bahamian accent and was unable to work with the American Negro Theater because he could not read the script competently in an audition. Then the life of Poitier changed course thanks to the kindness of a man. Poitier, who worked as a dishwasher, was approached by one of the servers.

“A Jewish guy,” he said. The older man asked him, “What’s up in the paper?” Poitier replied that he did not know, as he did not read very well. The man became his teacher, sitting with him every night after the restaurant closed, for weeks, encouraging him by listening to him read the newspaper. Poitier passed his next audition. The rest, as they say, is history.

Thanks to a teacher.

Denise Etheridge is a staff writer for The Walton Tribune in Monroe, Georgia. Her email address is [email protected]