Amanda Steeley, Special Education Teacher

I have a loving family. Today, my parents who have been married for more than 40 years live down the road and help my husband and me immensely with our two young daughters. I can not imagine my life today any other way. But years ago, when I was a twelve-year-old girl in the seventh grade, the unfortunate reality that we all end up eventually becoming exposed to became apparent: my mom and dad were not just my super heroes – they were humans, too. In seventh grade, my parents separated and my mom moved from Virginia to New York for a brief time. Needless to say, it rocked my world.

Everyone shudders at middle school memories. I was so intimidated by my peers that I barely ever spoke up in class. To this day, I remember raising my hand to participate in math class and the ‘cool girl’ saying, Oh my gosh…She can talk? I remember my heart beating uncomfortably fast as I wished I could disappear in the cloud of laughter that followed.

Today, I was not thinking about that girl, though. Today, I was thinking about how overwhelming teaching can be: how there are never enough hours in the day, how it is so hard to find work/life balance, how it is so much easier to tally the list of things I have not completed than the list of things that I have… And then I thought of the teacher in that seventh grade math classroom: Mr. Hayes.

Mr. Hayes’ smile as he asserted his famous line – There’s more than one way to solve a problem – still fills me with warmth. Mr. Hayes never took me out in the hall and told me that I was not living up to my potential, even though I remember other teachers who, with the best of intentions, had this conversation with me often. But it was not just his quirky lines or patient attitude that made a difference. Mr. Hayes did something else, too: He gave me an “F” on my interim report card and wrote “great kid” in the comments section.

I have no idea if Mr. Hayes knew what was going on in my life at the time. All I know is that by writing “great kid” on that report, he made me feel value at a time when I felt that I had very little. His impact was so profound that it still benefits me today, reminding me that it is not the completed to do list that defines me as a teacher, but the relationships I build with students, that truly make a difference. So rather than spend this Sunday drenched in pre-week teaching anxieties, I vow to spend the day sharpening my saw with the knowledge that the only way we can truly make others feel great is by first feeling great ourselves.