“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings.”
Recently, I came across this quote from famed Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung that a friend had posted on social media. And upon reading it, I found myself reflecting on the educators who inspired me not just as a child, but also as a young adult growing into my own.
While I have been blessed to have had many wonderful educators in my life, two of them died within the past year and a half.
The first, Jack Ewing, was my 11th-grade English teacher at South Side High School in Hookstown, Pennsylvania. The second, Charles V. “CV” Smith, was a history professor I had while as a student at the Community College of Beaver County.
Mr. Ewing and CV’s personalities were vastly different from one another, but both had a profound impact on my life.
Mr. Ewing was a humble, laid-back English teacher who was nearing retirement when I had him as a 16-year-old student. In addition to his passion for English literature, Mr. Ewing was a non-judgmental presence in the lives of his students. Often nicknamed “Father Ewing,” students would confess their weekend shenanigans and coming-of-age emotional conflicts with him. As I shared on my Facebook page upon learning of his death, what Jack gave me that I cherish the most was his non-judgmental listening presence at a time in my life when I was coming of age and trying to discover both who I was and the world around me.
CV Smith, on the other hand, had a more intense personality. As a former General Electric executive and Vietnam veteran turned college instructor, CV’s passion for history, gift in storytelling, and persuasiveness to inspire his students to stand against injustice, led him to become a favorite professor for many of his former students. CV was the first professor who pushed me not only to take my academics more seriously but was the first college educator who helped me see that despite having a learning disability, I could still graduate from college and find fulfillment in a professional career.
Learning about the death of both educators was a surprise to me given they were both just in their 70s and still had much to offer. However, I also felt a sense of guilt and remorse that I hadn’t tried to reach out to either of them to express my appreciation for them as inspirational educators in my life as a young person.
It’s an unfortunate reality that educators don’t often receive the support and recognition they deserve. From unrealistic demands set by institutional administrators to long hours with often unfair and unequal wages, many educators feel unappreciated and unacknowledged.
One individual who often sought to help people remember the impact educators made in their life was Fred Rogers. When ever Rodgers was invited to give a speech, he often would pause and ask the audience to take a moment in silence reflecting on all those in their lives who helped them get where they are. In fact, while accepting the Lifetime Achievement at the 24th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards Ceremony in 1997, Fred Rogers did just this as the entire audience sat in silence for ten seconds on national television. Rogers then concluded by saying, “Whomever you’ve been thinking about — how pleased they must be to know the difference you feel they’ve made.”
Many of us can’t recall the specific words our favorite educators said to us that allowed their names to be engraved in our hearts, but we do recall how they made us feel. Often it was their ability to see the gifts and potential we had which we weren’t aware of while instilling confidence in us that we could reach our fullest potential. And whether or not we have an opportunity to express our gratitude in our words, the greatest way to express our gratitude for those who inspired us is to educate others.
While becoming a professional educator is more than a career, but truly is an amazing calling to receive in your life, one doesn’t need to obtain a degree in order to empower and educate others. One can become a volunteer youth leader with a faith community, scout troop, STEM program, local sports team, or with a youth agricultural club. Or one can volunteer to tutor adults who are going back to school to earn their GED, those seeking to learn a new language, and those seeking to earn an associate degree at a local community college or skills in a new trade through an apprenticeship program. Regardless what you teach, the opportunities to be an educator are endless.
“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them,” John Kennedy once said.
While it’s important we recognize that our time is limited to express our gratitude to those in our life who educated us, there is always still time for us to truly express our gratitude through actions by educating others. Because when we educate others, we also are empowering them.
And so, for all of you who are educators, teachers, and mentors, thank you for educating and empowering others, but for also as Jung put it, touching human feelings. It’s because of you that not only you are enriching lives to help individuals reach their full potential, but you are instilling hope in a world that desperately needs to see what a better tomorrow could look like.