By Lindsey Bailey
“Education is not simply the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” –William Butler Yates
Twenty years ago, my tenth grade English teacher gave our class a writing assignment that has stayed with me to this day. At this point in my schooling career, there was little that had inspired or motivated me. But, this assignment was different and had sparked something in me. As I began forming a story, there was this feeling of excitement and intensity that I felt. I couldn’t wait to turn in my paper. But, much to my surprise, instead of a glowing review, my teacher asked if I had found this story on the internet and copied it. Instead of accolades, he said he wouldn’t give me a grade at all since it couldn’t be proven that the words were my own. He disregarded the paper and in the process something deep within me was disregarded as well. I was completely deflated. The small flame that had ignited while writing was quickly snuffed out.
Fast forward several years, I was in a college, prerequisite English class. I turned in my first paper. I remember that the assignment had once again caused this excited feeling as I typed the words. I edited and reviewed each word with a passionate intensity I didn’t recognize in myself. The light that had been buried beneath an insecure girl was once again flickering. This time, after turning in my paper, the professor took time and wrote some constructive, specific feedback along with a glowing review. It wasn’t just a ‘good job’, but specific analysis that inspired me. This professor had seen the dim light. Paper after paper, my confidence grew. He had this uncanny ability to illuminate something that I didn’t even know existed. He saw the light. He intensified this light with his words and time.
Two very different scenarios show what a powerful role a teacher plays in a student’s life. One person was able to see a flickering light within me and intensify it, the other almost turned the light off completely. Teachers are in this unbelievable position to either see darkness and weakness or find light and strength in their students. It is a powerful role. Looking for strengths even when the strengths don’t necessarily look like everyone else’s is an incredible opportunity. It is a catalyst for change in the lives of our students. I am not talking about arbitrary compliments. I’m talking about truly seeing a child and discovering the hidden light within each one. The light could be buried under insecurities, anger from past failure or a rebellious attitude from a dysfunctional home life. But, there is light and strength somewhere within that child.
The words a teacher speaks over a child stay long after they are uttered. I remember graduating college and saying goodbye to my photography professor. He looked straight into my eyes and with conviction, he said loud enough for an entire sidewalk of students passing by, ‘YOU ARE AN ARTIST”. The words in and of themselves were nothing magical, but the power of a teacher who I looked up to speaking those words over me were long lasting. Your words have the power to ignite life within each child. Remember your amazing and unique role as a teacher. As a new school year begins, let it be a year where you seek and ignite the light within your students.