I never meant to be a teacher. As the daughter of a teacher, I watched my mother struggle with growing class sizes, sudden changes in policy (she went from teaching physical education to math and science) and low pay. This meant there was never quite enough money to go around. My siblings and I wore hand me down clothes from my cousins, whose father worked for Chevron oil, and felt guilty whenever money had to be spent on new clothes.
“Try not to outgrow these so fast,” my mother would say with a worried frown as she wrote out a check for a new pair of sneakers. I remember looking down at my growing feet with dismay. Even then, at the age of 10, I knew teaching was a difficult profession. My mother was a conscientious, capable and kind teacher who brought papers home to grade every night and went out of her way to make learning fun, but no one seemed to notice. I vowed to avoid teaching at all costs and pursue a career that would allow me to make tons of money and wipe the perpetually worried frown from my mother’s face.
My resolve lasted until the age of 25 when I was offered a job teaching ESL in Japan. I took the job not because I was qualified or interested, but because I would have the chance to see another country. In Japan, teachers and education are seen as the foundation of Japanese society. The literacy rate is close to 99% and teachers are revered. There is no other word for it. Moreover, they are well compensated for their work. The respect and admiration I experienced as an ESL teacher helped me see teaching in a whole new light. I wasn’t just doing a routine job, but helping shape how other human beings saw and interacted with the world. In short, I was making a difference. I knew it, the parents and school knew it, and the kids showed me they knew it by showing up with smiles on their faces and being willing to try whatever new idea I had to make teaching grammar fun.
Today, I write and illustrate the CritterKin Tales, a series of children’s books designed to teach kids that animals (critters) are family (kin). Thanks to the remarkable educators I’ve met on Twitter and other social media platforms, I’ve discovered that my teaching days are far from over. Teachers all across the U.S. and Canada are inviting me into their classrooms to read, write, draw and brainstorm ways to make kindness real for their kids. Better yet, the teachers themselves are taking the CritterKin creative baton and running with it – developing school-wide projects designed to help kids not only experience kindness, compassion and empathy but apply it to their daily lives as well.
During this teacher appreciation week I feel it’s really important to not only express your gratitude for the teachers in your lives, but to acknowledge that you too are a teacher of the children in your life and community. Ask yourself what lessons your kids are learning from you, and what you can do to support and encourage the amazing men and women who show up each and every day believing that there’s no better or more important job than helping our children learn.