Roy Exum: Teachers Day Tomorrow

  • Monday, May 2, 2016
  • Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Years ago at a ritzy dinner party in Westchester County, New York, an editor from Reader’s Digest was seated next to the prettiest woman in the room and noticed her overall glow and countenance was such that he had never noticed a tell-tale scar under her nose. After the dishes were cleared away, admit the mindless chatter, he asked if she would mind telling him about it.

The two had been friends for years and, with easy warmth, she told him she was born with a cleft palate. Several miraculous surgeries by the best surgeons in Manhattan had dealt with the problem, this where at birth the two plates of the skull that form the hard palate (roof of the mouth) are not completely joined and the upper lip is sometimes misshaped.  

The woman said she – and her family -- was terribly embarrassed about it and then she told the editor of an incident that happened in the second grade. “It completely changed my life, my entire outlook,” she told the magazine executive. After she had recounted what had happened, one day at lunch a long time afterwards I was seated next to him at lunch and his eyes watered as he shared it with me.

“I hated going to school and other children can be cruel. I’d say I fell on a broken bottle one day at recess or that we had been in a bad car wreck, but they knew I was born this way. Their parents would always tell them and I suffered as a result.

“When I was in the second grade, I had the best teacher in school. We adored her and she was so dedicated to teaching, wanting so badly for us to excel, that when we couldn’t remember lines to a poem or didn’t get an arithmetic problem right it would actually hurt your own feelings,” the woman said. (Arithmetic is “math” - really is.)

“In New York at the time they gave second graders hearing tests. What the teacher would do is take each student into the hall and whisper in their right ear. The student would then repeat what was heard. Then they would test the left ear and I was horrified … as a result of my cleft palate I can hear very little to this day out of my left ear.

“I was among the last names on the list and I thought – or imagined – I heard a few snickers as I went into the hall. My teacher smiled at me and said, ‘The flag is red, white and blue.’ I responded just right, but I may have had tears in my eyes when she gently turned me around to speak in my left ear because there was no way … just no way …

“Then I heard her say, clearly and faintly but loud enough for my right ear to catch it: ‘I wish … you were my little girl.’

“My whole life’s view was changed. I changed, too, and I was never embarrassed again until the surgeries fixed it for good.”

That’s a teacher. So help me, that is what a teacher richly and truly does. Every day. In Every City. In the world.

* * *

There are teachers just like the one you read about alive and well in our area school systems and private schools. Some of the best actually help teach and coach those who are home schooled. Dan Liner, the president of the Hamilton County Education Association, reminded me that tomorrow (Tuesday, May 3) is National Teacher’s Day.

If you have ever had a teacher you will never forget, the chances are good if you will mail – or, better yet, hand deliver – a note telling them exactly that, it would be the greatest blessing you could bestow on them. Think of the countless possibilities we have in the next 24 hours.

You could include a nursing instructor, a guy who taught you when you were still an electrical apprentice, the father of a teammate who taught you to bunt, your small group Bible leader, the judge who led you away from self-ruin. Like it or not we learn every day and, if you could somehow take a few minutes to thank another for a lesson you learned, believe this, you sentiment would be wonderful. Needless to  say, it will also never be forgotten. I will guarantee it.

If you are a parent with children in school, it is perfectly fine if you want to send a note with your child tomorrow. But how much better would it be to sit at the kitchen counter and ‘teach’ your child tonight how to write such a note bearing their signature. Mercy!

I remember my mother singing the praises of Miss Ellen Poindexter who so richly enhanced the lives of countless of mothers. Thank somebody who taught you how to handle an unruly son (Miss Poindexter thought I was a great puzzle) or what about the guy who taught you horsemanship or the doctor who taught you that if you’ll follow instructions you’ll get through this bad disease. Don’t you think they would like to know that … they mattered?

“Think outside the box,” to cop what is fast becoming a needless phrase. Who taught you to drive a manual clutch, rock climb, the Lamaze birth method, to always use extra butter in any cake or why there are aromatic bitters but only one angostura with a dash of the signature of dr. J. G. B. siegert. Angostura is the brand name under which dr. J. G. B. siegert and his successors have sold their product throughout the world since 1830. it does not contain angostura bark but derives its name from the fact that it originated in the town of angostura, Angostura Aromatic Bitters is required in a true gentleman’s drink? All of this is real stuff that deserves a note.

But the biggest – by far – needs to go to the Hamilton County Department of Education after it was revealed they have been mistreated, bullied, threatened and abused by a school system gone awry. You don’t have to limit notes to one teacher and principals deserve every one of them. Coaches too.

Make sure you tell our teachers that tomorrow is their day. Lift them up. Exalt them. Let’s put air beneath their wings.

* * *

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”  - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry


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