I recently just celebrated my 20th anniversary of being a classroom teacher. I do not know what it is about this anniversary, but I have found myself being more reflective than usual about the past two decades. I will be doing something mundane–chopping vegetables, washing dishes, grading papers–and I will find myself thinking about all of the students that have walked in and out of my classroom. Or I will be at work and will reach for something behind my desk, and my eyes will lock with one of my former students in his/her class picture for that year. I will stop and pray for that child, and remember a memory that we shared together when he/she was in my class. I wonder about that student, the family, and what career path the now grown-up child has chosen.

I am filled with gratitude for these students. They have helped shape and mold me. They have provided me with first hand experience that I would never have gained from reading a textbook or listening to a college lecture. These students have been my teachers. They showed me when to slow down, when to be a little more silly, when to be a bit more serious, and how to handle difficult teaching situations. What valuable lessons they have each taught me!

When I was reflecting on my years in the classroom, I stopped and thought of one student in particular. I will call him Jude.

Jude was such a wonderful, amazing, and amiable boy! I had his sister a few years previously and I loved the family. I truly considered it a gift to be Jude’s teacher. He had a good sense of humor, he was bright, and he was a good classroom citizen. One day I was walking the students to their buses, and Jude stopped and saw a bright red sports car parked in between the buses. He stopped and said, “That is my bus!” I laughed so hard at his quick wit.

I remember talking about him in the teachers’ room when I was grading papers. I held up his handwriting paper and I showed it to the other teachers. They all looked at it in awe because it looked like a piece of art! I remember the teacher sitting next to me said, “If only every student could write like Jude and act like Jude!” I was young in my career, and at that time that was my wish.

However, now that I have a few more years under my belt, I have realized something. As much as I appreciated Jude, his abilities, and his family, having a student like him would not have taught me or pushed me to be a better teacher. It would not have caused me to grow, to research, to pay attention more, to try to understand more, to ask better questions, to talk to other colleagues about difficult situations, and to seek out more professional development. It wouldn’t have motivated me to figure out the messy, difficult questions of teaching. Although I look back on my time with Jude as a complete blessing, I understand now that every child that has walked through and will walk through my door is a blessing and an opportunity for me to learn something and to grow.

In my over 20 years of teaching, I have learned something: almost every child has some type of struggle in his or her elementary years. It may be academic, social, or a family matter–teachers may have an opportunity to step in and help that family and child walk through an arduous situation. As teachers do this, they learn techniques and skills to help students be overcomers. Teachers gain incredible experience from working with every student and family. They can provide parents with sound advice and make an impression that impacts eternity.

I know that many of these situations take a great deal of perseverance and energy, but please do not lose heart. This is what shapes you to become a more seasoned teacher. Teachers, I encourage you to take a minute and think to yourself when you are faced with a challenge in your classroom, What can I learn from this situation or person? Allow the situation and student to be your teacher, so that you can add a new tool or two to your toolbox. God knows that you can do it; so take full advantage of every opportunity to learn. As FDR so famously said, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.”

You may be wondering— what will the next 20 years look like? Truth be told, I still love teaching and I DO plan on teaching for another 20 years. However, I am sure that when the day comes for me to retire, a red sports car will pick me (not Jude) up from school!

Photo by Zain Saleem on Unsplash

Fran Turuta currently teaches at Smithtown Christian School which is located on Long Island, NY. She has worked as a camp counselor, a tutor, and a classroom teacher. She has over 20 years of experience and has taught 4th, 3rd, 5th, and 1st grades. She is a wife and a mother and enjoys standup paddle boarding, running, baking, and reading.