Teaching is a Work of Heart
by Shalonda Archibald, NJLA Board Member
The story of Teddy Stoddard and his teacher is one of my favorite stories of how impactful teachers are in the lives of children and vice versa. If you don’t know the story, Google it. It is a worthy read. The Teddy Stoddard story reminds me of why I became a teacher. During my early school years, I attended many, many schools and had faced a number of adverse childhood experiences.
In fifth grade, I attended Whitney M. Young Jr. Elementary School (PS #15), and my worldview began to change. My teachers at PS #15 were some of the most dedicated, compassionate, genuine, caring, and loving individuals that I had ever met. They combed hair, bought clothes, funded field trips; they were stern but lovingly redirected and so much more.
It was those acts of kindness that made school a safe haven for me and inspired me to enter this profession. It is year 19 for me, and I still love teaching. I know that I make a difference in the lives of others each and every day. However, teaching has become increasingly taxing on my mind, body, and spirit. Some days I have to pull from the deepest crevices of my emotional wellness reserves to push through. It seems like on these days I receive a text, phone call, or post from a former student, and I am reminded of why God chose me to teach and am encouraged to remain hopeful amidst the chaos of our current educational landscape.
Those of us who have been teaching for a while have many testimonies from former students of how we shaped or saved their lives. Mugs galore, cards, letters, pictures, etc. I have what I call my warm and fuzzy memories binder where I house such items so that on the days when teaching feels too much to bear I can look at it and remember why I do this important work.
I dream of a world where as much as teachers pour into students, we are poured into as well. In the meantime, we cannot let our emotional wells run dry. It is even more imperative that we care for and nurture ourselves just as we do anything else that we love. If loving yourself requires a good cry, do it. If loving yourself requires a day off, take it. If loving yourself requires a spirited walk in a park on a brisk fall afternoon, walk. If loving yourself requires simply laying in bed with no noise or lights, do it. Author Saundra Dalton Smith in her book Sacred Rest says that “a well rested life is a well lived life.” Reclaim yourselves, my friends. Rest and be selfish about it. We cannot impart who we are not. The greatest act of love for our students is loving ourselves so that we can be the best for everything and everyone we love.