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More Than a Teacher

by Shalonda Archibald, NJLA Board Member

The month of November was really difficult. I gained another angel this year. A former student, mentee...a son by heart. He was 28 years old, a husband, a father, a wise, humble, kind, generous, loving young man who affectionately called me mom2. His wife shared that he even had my number saved in his cell phone as mom2. On Saturday, November 6th, he was killed in a tragic car accident. Time stood still for me the moment I got the news on the following Monday by way of a call from another student who had read the news on Facebook. The subsequent days found me in bed with an ache in my head and heart that even the strongest dose of Tylenol couldn’t soothe. This is the part of teaching that professional development, professional learning networks or teacher preparation programs can’t prepare you to deal with.

As a teacher I am more than a vessel disseminating information to little humans. So much more. I am an example of the possibilities, agent of change, advocate, inspirer, guide, and hope whisperer.

My superpower is love. And love is the springboard for building positive, healthy, lasting relationships with anyone, students included. It is my personal belief that one must truly love children to be highly effective in reaching them to teach them. Whoever coined the quote, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care,” definitely had the right idea. Even in school environments with the worst morale, performance status and physical conditions I bring love to the table and my students and I still thrive like “roses growing from concrete.”

On day one of his 9th grade year, this young man strode up to me, introduced himself with his full name (first, middle and last) and ended his introduction with, “and I’m not a good reader but based on what you said I believe you can help me.” To which I responded, “Nice to meet you, son. I’m not a good reader all the time either. When I read legal documents or medical journals I have to look words up, I’m confused by some of the ideas...but here’s what I know. I know how to use strategies to learn and that’s what I am going to teach you how to do.” He strode out of my classroom that morning with his chest poked out and a pep in his step. And we journeyed together through high school, Morgan University, gender reveals, baby births, setbacks, accomplishments. My birth sons called him brother and sought wisdom from their “older brother.”

"Some days there won't be a song in your heart. Sing anyway." Last month there haven't been many songs in my heart, but I continue to show up...nurturing my soul through my grief while staying committed to those I love, INCLUDING MYSELF. I know that “singing anyway” keeps me joyful, grounded in gratitude, and hopeful about the days ahead.

Stay encouraged friends. Remember that forever has an expiration date so make all of your moments matter. When our eulogies are written they won’t include much of what we consider high importance in our day to day. It will include sentiments like caring, compassionate, loving, genuine, kind among other attributes of success that aren't related to accomplishments or money. Friends, I’ll leave with you words shared during the memorial:

“A heart of love pauses to stir up purpose in others.”


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