Visions of youth (Sept. 18, 2008)

It’s not all ABCs

Sept. 18, 2008
By Kayla Purvis

We don’t go to school just to learn our ABCs and 1-2-3s. We don’t go to school just to sit in a plastic chair and stare at a whiteboard. We go to school to learn how to be independent, to learn skills and values necessary for us to be successful people in life.

But we can’t do it alone. Someone has to help us along the way. Fortunately, those people are provided for us, and we call them teachers. The best teachers are the teachers who don’t try to be your friend, but let you know they care about you. The best teachers are the teachers who push you even when you resist, because they know what you’re capable of.

I was lucky to have one of those teachers for four of my school years. When I first met him he was intimidating and, I thought, a little mean. But by the time I was an eighth grader, I’d figured out that he knew what he was doing. That teacher repeatedly asked one question of me and my peers: “So what?” At the end of a sentence, paragraph, paper, or even explanation, we’d often find “so what?” written. What’s next? What else can you tell me? He wanted us to go deeper, to find something else to say. He knew when there was more to tell, even when we didn’t.

Teachers teach us things like proper grammar and the Pythagorean theorem, but a good teacher teaches us how to be who we are and accept it. We spend eight or more hours at school; our teachers watch us grow up just as much as our parents do. It’s important that they support us, and it’s important that we as students know they support us.

For two of my middle school years I wanted to be a firefighter, which is an unusual occupation for a 13- or 14-year-old to choose. But all the same, my teachers supported it and they supported me. Without that, I wouldn’t have gained the self-confidence that I did. Even though I no longer desire to be a firefighter, I know those same teachers will still support me in my decision to go college.

Remember the teacher that asked “so what?” a lot? Well, he told us another thing that I’ll always remember. It’s a song, by Lee Ann Womack, called, “I Hope You Dance.” One day this teacher read us the lyrics to that song, and then looked at all of us and said, “When you get the choice to sit it out or dance … I hope you dance.”

That teacher was Gary Howard, who recently retired from Williston Central School. I was sad to hear that he’d be leaving, because he was one of those teachers who pushed you even when you resisted. He was one of those teachers who asked you to read further into something. And he was one of those teachers who supported his students.

Williston resident Kayla Purvis is a sophomore at Champlain Valley Union High School.