The power of a positive teacher

Published 7:34 am Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Yesterday was the last first day of school for my wife, Mary Lou. Through high school, college, graduate school, children and finally a long teaching career, she has been getting ready for a new school year for a long time. We have both known for a while that this would be her last year before retiring, and in some ways it is already bittersweet.

The spouse of a teacher gets a unique perspective of what it is like to be an educator. Some of the challenges and frustrations make their way home and you get an earful when you ask the question, “What was your day like?”

However, the non-educator spouse gets the opportunity to see other things that probably aren’t quite so clear to the average person. I believe that there is something very special about those who choose a career in education. Those who view teaching as just a job are quickly weeded out. It is too tough to do this job for just a paycheck.

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Others start out on a mission to change the world, but are slowly beaten down by years of increasingly challenging administrative demands and a changing environment. The world changes for these teachers and they hold on only for the sake of retirement.

Those that are the most successful, it seems to me, are the educators that teach because it is somehow in their blood. Their success is measured in different ways, often unseen or unknown until many years later, if at all.

The teachers that made a difference in my life all had one thing in common. It was not that they were more difficult or more demanding. It wasn’t that they were more interesting or more knowledgeable. The common denominator was simply that they were positive and they made me feel like I could accomplish things.

Simple kind words of encouragement go a long way when a child is learning. Even the smartest, most talented kids have inner challenges and doubts. Those with no support system at home may find the only glimpse of their own potential comes from an encouraging teacher.

I have seen my wife beam with pride while celebrating a student’s success. It does not have to be admission to law school or acceptance to college. Sometimes, it is finding that one thing that went right in an otherwise difficult day.

Teachers make a difference in people’s lives. Students of a generation ago come to my wife and tell her how she influenced them in a positive way. That is a reward worth more than a paycheck. It is a validation of her purpose and a confirmation of her career choice.

There are few things in this world more powerful than a positive teacher. One student at a time, great teachers have the ability to change the world.

To Mary Lou as she begins her last year teaching, but to all who are entrusted with the education of our children, good luck as another school year begins. Give these students your best. You may be that positive mentor that changes their life forever.

Dan Ponder can be reached at