Teachers, you make all the difference

It’s back-to-school week, but getting our second-grader excited about it has been no walk in the playground.

My own unofficial poll recently confirmed it. The sole question over spaghetti a few weeks ago: “Who’s excited for school to start?”

Two of three hands shot up. Our second-grader shrugged, then cleared her plate and walked off.

For Nayvie, 7, a shrug means “absolutely not me,” and walking away from the table early means, “Enough with the dumb questions, Dad.”

But things changed on a nickel last week, and my wife and I credit one thing for it: Nayvie got the teacher she’d been hoping for all summer. She must’ve told me four times that night that she’d have Mrs. Cronquist, who soon turned into “Mrs. C” around the house.

She bounced around our home telling everyone, and then she asked my wife to write up some math problems for her to “practice” before Tuesday, the big day.

My wife as my witness: Math. Problems. And then Nayvie did all of them.

Our second-grader doing math ahead of opening week.

I was surprised, but then I wasn’t. With three elementary-age daughters, my wife and I have learned well the impacts good teachers can have on kids.

Teachers, you really can make all the difference.

As a former teacher, I’m not saying other factors — learning environment, home life, student ability — don’t play a big part. They do. I’ve just seen — and experienced — how the “right” teacher can seize opportunities to make huge impressions on things like attitude and engagement, even when kids or their home situations are tough.

There’s all the research, of course. A quick Google search churns out endless articles on how impactful — for good or bad — a teacher can be, from elementary school on through college.

But if you’ve experienced it, you know. My memorable moment came as a high school sophomore.

“What are you gonna do with your life, Bodkin?” Blackfoot High School PE teacher, baseball and football coach Chuck Reay yelled at me on the practice football field after school one day.

I was horsing around with friends, and I’m sure he was thinking, “Hoo boy, we got an interesting one here.”

I could tell he expected a response.

Let’s see… What to do with my life…. I never thought that far ahead. I probably scratched my head. I probably had plans to toe the line between “fun” at a friend’s place and breaking some city ordinance.

Then he spoke before I could. “You need to go to college, Bodkin.” He said it in all seriousness. He repeated it. Then, he walked off.

It was a brief exchange, one of hundreds I’d go on to have with educators. But it stuck.

Coach Chuck Reay, who smiled occasionally, but impacted hundreds of students during his career at Blackfoot High School.

Coach Reay is a beloved teacher in my community. (He retired last school year.) Usually it was a math or science teacher harping fruitlessly on me about school stuff. But Coach Reay — with his biker-style goatee blowing in the breeze, T-shirt, gym shorts and tennis shoes, gym keys jingling as he walked — was someone I could connect with. He took an interest in me, and it stuck.

I’m not saying it’s the only reason a knucklehead teen went to college, but it played a part. And it sticks to this day.

Years later, after becoming a teacher and Coach Reay’s coworker, I shared that story with him and a group of fellow teachers at a training meeting. Same high school. Same goatee. Same gym shorts, T-shirt and tennis shoes.

But a tear may or may not have glistened in the old PE teacher’s eye.

“Thanks, Bodkin,” he said afterward.

Thanks, Coach.

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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