The role of a teacher is important and valuable. A teacher’s influence is still seen years later. Students return to say hello, to thank you, to hug you, and to say they made it. It’s the best kind of recognition a teacher can receive. I enjoy seeing former students. The oldest students I taught must be around thirty-five or thirty-six years old by now. For the record, I’ve taught around 543 students. Admittedly, those numbers make me feel old, but it’s a good old because I loved teaching. Working with children brought me immense joy and sometimes it drove me crazy. There were good days and hard days as are inevitable when over twenty children were put together on a daily basis.
I remember one student of mine who had very troubling years getting through elementary school. He was violent and destructive. He scared children. He scared adults if I’m being honest. Staff eventually learned some of his trigger words and actions that foreshadowed he was close to losing whatever control he had of himself. One such signal was if he suddenly started clucking like a chicken. He was a teacher to us in that way. We all wondered if he would make it through middle and high school. He did. He returned with other graduating seniors several years ago to visit. We talked and he struck me as happy and excited about his future. He had plans to attend a community college and learn a trade. He told another teacher that he was better now. Elementary school held a positive place in his heart even though it was excruciating for him. He wouldn’t have returned if we hadn’t mattered.
Curriculum is significant, but HOW teachers teach it and the connections we make while doing so are even more important. I always thought my two largest roles as a teacher were to help my students become critical thinkers and to teach them to be kind to one another. Knowing how to think and be kind will positively impact the world more than knowing a lot about numbers, science, or words (all of which are amazingly awesome on their own).
I am finally getting to how all of this connects to storms. Life has storms. We need to know how to think and be kind when one of life’s storms comes our way. Storms are teachers.
Poems also are powerful teachers. Writers create images that stick with people for different reasons. Mark Nepo is a poet and spiritual advisor who has taught poetry and spirituality for over thirty years. He has written fourteen books and has a wide following. He also is a cancer survivor. His poem titled Behind the Thunder weaves together ideas of learning to be strong without losing yourself. I believe its point is that an event can change you but that you don’t give yourself over to it. At its core, the poem is about resilience.
Behind the Thunder
~ Written by Mark Nepo
I keep looking for one more teacher,
only to find that fish learn from water
and birds learn from the sky.
If you want to learn about the sea,
it helps to be at sea.
If you want to learn about compassion,
it helps to be in love.
If you want to learn about healing,
it helps to know of suffering.
The strong live in the storm
without worshipping the storm.
Cancer is one bleeping kind of a storm.
And no, I can’t use the word I’d like to use after a poem written by Mark Nepo.
It wouldn’t be right.
What a storm it is. It has drenched me. I have lived with this storm. Like a fish that has learned from water, and like birds that have learned from the sky, I have learned from the storm. I have suffered, but I feel I have also learned a little about healing. This is what the storm as a teacher has taught me:
- It’s better to exist in the storm from a place of healing rather than a place of suffering.
- The storm has made me stronger than I knew I could be.
- The storm hasn’t broken me. It won’t. It can’t destroy my soul.
- Cancer has been a rather cruel and unrelenting teacher, but effective. Maybe it intended to turn me bitter and negative, but it failed. Through it, I have learned about joy, kindness, peace, and gratitude.
- Just because I live in a storm doesn’t mean I’m a human lightning rod. I will protect myself seeking shelter and sanctuary in whatever way I can.
- The storm has not made me ugly. I am more beautiful than ever. Living in this stupid storm has taught me how to finally embrace and recognize my beauty.
- There are some who will never understand how I think or feel about this storm. It’s okay. I don’t understand myself a lot of the time anyway.
- Others live in similar storms. We can support one another and learn together.
- There will be more storms.
- I am resilient.
Thunder can’t hurt me.
It’s the lightning that’s the problem.
I’m still learning.
What lessons have you learned from living in a storm?