Teachers: You Matter More Than You Know

This week was difficult at my high school.  We lost a teacher to cancer.  A teacher who was young, energetic and cared so much about his students, his football players, his family.  As I sat this morning in the warm September sun on the bleachers of our football stadium, I watched his young wife, their toddler sons, his parents.  I watched the bleachers fill with faculty, students, coaches and friends.  Graduates came back.  Faculty who've moved on came back.  And we mourned, and we celebrated Jon's life.

Jon was pretty quiet in my eyes.  We taught at different ends of the building and our paths only crossed occasionally.  My first year, I got lost in his wing of the building, trying to deliver my keys so he and his class could change my car's oil for his automotive car care class.  Not only did he change the oil, but he told me he was concerned about my tires being low and he didn't think I'd rotated them lately, so he and the kids took care of that.

Another day several months after his twin sons were born prematurely, he came into the teachers' workroom.  I ventured a small question, "How are the boys, Jon?"  and was rewarded with his eyes lighting up.  He pulled out his phone to show me pictures, all the while talking animatedly about them both - telling me about their progress and how well they were doing.  It was a beautiful moment, so full of genuine love.

Today, as I listened to the stories of family and friends, these memories came back.  What I had considered the small pieces I knew of Jon really were Jon.  He took the time to help others, always going above and beyond, and he deeply loved his family.  My eyes drifted from the speaker at the podium to a figure a few rows in front of me. Alex, who graduated last year, sat alone, quietly weeping into his hands, his big shoulders shaking.  Alex was at least 6'4 with a deep, deep voice.  He was one of  the hardest working, kindest students I've ever taught.  He left high school with a job in a car shop ready for him.  It's what he wanted to do.  Clearly, Jon had meant the world to Alex.

It struck me that what Jon considered just the normal course of a day - helping his colleagues, helping his students and players, loving his family - had made such a huge impact.  Did he know?  Did he realize that all those students would come back and pay their respects?  That colleagues he hardly knew had been touched  by his kindness?

My guess is that he did not.

Our jobs as teachers are hard, even on good days.  Rare are the moments when we reflect on the impact we're having.  Rare are the moments when we see what our kids do after they've left us.  And rarer still is the thought that we make a difference.  Most of us go through our days quietly doing our best, building relationships, encouraging, failing, getting back up, giving another chance, trying something else.  It's tiring; it's stressful; it's often thankless.

But, I want you all to remember, that you do make a difference, and we need to remind each other that we matter, more than we know.  The small kind words, the passion we have for our work and our students, the encouragement we offer each other when we're having a rough day.  It all matters.  We don't have to wait until retirement or a tragic loss to tell our colleagues how much they mean and how they shape who we are.

So, to all my colleagues, who help me out in more ways than I ever tell you, thank you.  You make me a better teacher and a better human being, even if I don't always show it.  You mean a lot to me.

And to Jon, I say thank you.  I hope your spirit lives on as part of who we are at Battle High School.  We'll be more than all right if that's the case.

Comments

  1. I am Jon's 2nd cousin. I didn't know him very well at all..Reading your memories gave me another thing to know about him. Thank you for sharing..and yes, the memorial was unbelievable.

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  2. Thank you, Kris. My heart goes out to you and your family.

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  3. Beautifully said. We, my wife and I, were at the memorial and I was impressed by the number of people in attendance. My sons thought the world of Jon Dinter and obviously a lot of others did too. He did leave a lasting legacy at Battle High School. As a parent I want to say thank you, to him and all the teachers that touch the minds and hearts of our children.

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  4. This is great and very well written!

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