This blog for this month is in honor of World Teacher Day, and it is dedicated to teachers and the teacher in all of us. The propensity for acquiring knowledge and learning is something that I credit to the influence of having amazing teachers in my life. Many of us may feel the same way, even if those teachers were our family members, friends, mentors, or chosen family. The impact that one person can have upon a life can be so profound. I bet you might be wondering, what correlation could there be about teachers and mental health? For me, teachers have provided me with a foundation for critical and analytical thinking skills that enable me to continue to be curious about the world and the human experience as a therapist.
I am sure that there are individuals from your life that have played an instrumental role in your life as a “teacher”. At the foundation of teaching is trust and compassion. A teacher also inspires us to be better and think beyond our wildest imagination about the endless possibilities of who and what we can be in the world. Instead of writing from strictly a therapeutic perspective in this blog, I wanted to take some time to include some real life stories about teachers and how they have impacted the lives of those closest to me. In honor of World Teacher Day, I asked some of my dear friends to shine light on how their teachers (however they define these individuals to be) played a positive role in affirming their mental health. Check out their responses below about how teaching in its own way can serve as a source for exploration of our humanity as well as a challenge for us all to understand how our past and present can shape our future thinking.
My sister Jerri, my sister from another Mother, emailed me about her experience with her 2nd and 3rd grade reading and spelling teacher Mrs. Cory. I found it interesting that Mrs. Cory was Jerri’s reading and spelling teacher because language is the cornerstone of communication and to have a teacher like Mrs. Cory support and affirm the development of language is essential to how we express our thoughts, feelings, desires, and needs as human beings. Jerri stated, “After every spelling test, she would pass out our papers and tell me “very good”. Jerri informed me that she took great pride in studying and looked forward to receiving validation and affirmation for her accomplishments. At the heart of her story was also the expression of gratitude for having her self-esteem and confidence uplifted. To all the “teachers” in the world who have made us more confident individuals to face life’s challenges, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
This next lived experience about the impact that a teacher had comes from my brother from another Mother Triston. He emailed me about the impact that his 11th grade teacher Mrs. Beane had on his life. Her love for nature and animals like wolves would later serve as inspiration for my bro’s love for animals in general. However, what I found most interesting in his account of Mrs. Beane was the foresight that she had to see in him that he needed to be challenged. So many students wish to be seen for who they are and not be labeled in society. It was apparent to me that Mrs. Beane challenged Tristen to see that he had so much more potential, so much so, that he was placed in an AP English course. I love how this story impacted his life so much that it reminded him to not let anyone place a label on him that he did not accept.
My friend Dr. Charley Cheney emailed me about his positive experience with his AP English teacher Mrs. Simmons. I appreciate the intricate details about his appreciation of how she challenged him to think critically and how he was opened to being challenged to improve his thoughts in writing. Charley is a very intelligent person, and I was in awe that he admired Mrs. Simmons to take a class that was “not for the faint of heart”. In addition, his experience in this class also caused Charley Cheney to take up writing poetry. I have been fortunate enough to experience Charley reading and preforming his poetry. Thank you so much Mrs. Simmons for inspiring my friend’s gift and talent for poetry and writing. Charley’s propensity to see the good in people and be optimistic is seen in his quote from Mrs. Simmons, “All that wanders are not lost.”
My final account comes from my mentor Dr. Evelyn Webb. Her account of her college experience of her professor Dr. Jefferson challenged Evelyn outside of class by stopping to ask her and other students questions about the class lecture/content. If they did not answer correctly, they were given an “instant sermon on expectations and college requirements”. I appreciate this level of tenacity and hunger for learning that Evelyn still exudes in her learning and mentorship today. Charley and I were fortunate enough to experience this firsthand as students at a public boarding school for gifted and talented Mississippi youth under her leadership at the Mississippi School for Math and Science. As two Black young men who did not fully understand at the time our potential, having you in our life helped us forge a path for us to become independent thinkers to challenge the status quo with facts and research. The life lesson of utilizing knowledge and communication as a tool to challenge the stereotypical notions that society had about our identity continue to shape our character and purpose in life today. Thank you, Evelyn, and all of the teachers that provide us with compassion, hope, and a little bit of “tough love” to help us become the best person that we can be in the world. Words can’t simply express enough our gratitude.