A Lesson Well Taught


I’ll admit my belief in the basic goodness in people had almost disappeared. I felt the indifference displayed by people toward those in need was to be expected. But, I would most sincerely like to tender to you my genuine admission that I was mistaken. The most human traits of compassion, caring for another and love haven’t vanished, they are just elusive and hard to find. I realize now that my half-hearted search for the ever so reclusive genuine concern for others had not been successful because it had been hiding in plain view.

I was recently offered, and accepted, the role of substitute teacher for an English class at the local high school. The assignment would encompass the last six days of the school year. I was aware of secretive conversations at the school regarding the missing teacher’s struggle with a serious illness. I also knew she had been away from her classes for most of the year.

Occasionally, if we are fortunate enough, there comes a moment when we are privileged to witness an event that exemplifies the greatest qualities of our species. That moment came for me with ten minutes remaining in the last class on the last day of school when the absent teacher unexpectedly came into her classroom.
She was short of breath but managed a smile as she said “hello” to her students. The faces in the room came alive with smiles and looks of excitement. Everyone rushed to her side as she told them she would never let them leave school without saying goodbye. The smile remained on her face as she spoke.

The teacher told her students she thought of them often, and wished them the very best. She asked that each of them realize they had the ability to accomplish great things in life, and they controlled their own destinies. She told them to remember they are important, and can make such a difference in this world. Most of all she said she longed for them to find happiness.

The children gathered closely around their teacher and touched her arm gently as though they believed she was frail and might break. With eyes rapidly darting from face to face she listened as the children talked with excitement about their future plans. Most of all they talked about her return to the class, and to them. She said she wanted so badly and desperately to return to them. She said she could think of nothing better than to once again be with them in class, but she couldn’t make a promise she may not be able to keep. Lastly, she asked the students to leave as the last school day had ended. She wished them well.

The teacher introduced herself to me and I reciprocated by introducing myself. Her voice cracked as she thanked me for taking care of her students. I told her I was merely a caretaker and the classroom and the pupils belonged to her. She said she had a serious medical problem and her return to teaching was in doubt. She told me she so much wanted to return to the school and to her students.

I told her she could never begin to fathom how much witnessing the outpouring of compassion and love meant to me. I asked that she always have hope she will overcome her illness and one day return to her class. I told her neither I, nor anyone else, could ever replace her in the classroom or in the hearts of her students. The teacher once again thanked me and said goodbye. She looked back into the classroom as she walked slowly away but the smile she showed the children had disappeared. The English teacher taught English but she also taught humanity. I will think about her and the students whenever I begin to think human kindness is lost.

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