It’s Teacher Appreciation Week!
And even though I am a retired Mississippi public school teacher, this week always makes me remember my years as a student instead of my 23 years as an educator. Truth be told, it makes me laugh out loud because, as we say in the South, I was a mess.
Any teacher who ever taught me deserves appreciation – and possibly sainthood. My sons probably tried the patience of a few saintly teachers as well.
But I could never celebrate teachers and teaching without honoring the most important Mississippi educator in my life – my daddy, Fred Wilson. We always teased him and called him Fred A. Wilson, emphasizing that “A” with thick sarcasm because that’s how he signed everything – including our birthday cards.
In his defense, it was probably hard to separate his job as a teacher, coach, and principal from his job as a father because he was the same man in both places. He really was!
I have heard people talk about how their parents were two different people, one in public and the other in private. Not Fred A. Wilson! No, sir. Like my Heavenly Father, my daddy was the same yesterday, today, and forever.
He was the consummate teacher and disciplinarian, and his line in the sand was clear and concise. We never had to wonder what he or my mother expected of us. We knew then, and we still do – even though they’ve both gone to their heavenly home.
They taught us with every breath and every action about honesty, kindness, honor, and respect. They taught by modeling everything we needed to learn for a successful, productive life. And modeling is exactly what true teachers do every single day.
For my daddy, teaching was not just a profession or even a calling. It was a way of life. (Great teachers innately know this way before they ever face a classroom full of eager, antsy learners.)
I guess that’s why I find it so amusing when people decry the “easy” life of a teacher.
Yes, on the outside, it seems like the perfect setup with a five-day workweek, all weekends off, and those easy hours of 7-3. Teachers work for the state and get state retirement benefits, great insurance, and plenty of paid holidays, including those summer vacations.
But I cannot remember a night at our home when my parents were not worried about a student or dealing with a student or parent. It was just part of our life. My daddy was everyone’s extra daddy, and his kids came by our house often for counsel and love. And they kept coming, long after he retired. In fact, until his death, they visited my parents in their retirement home.
Our weekends (and most weeknights) were filled with every imaginable school activity. We had Wednesday nights and Sundays free, but the other nights revolved around school events. It was our way of life, and I never questioned it. I loved it!
I loved almost every aspect of being a teacher’s kid, even though I did not understand why my daddy was so adamant about some things. For example, he could not stand to see his students go without anything they needed. With their own money, my parents paid school fees, funded trips, and bought clothes, shoes, and groceries for dozens of students over the years. They never told us (or anyone else, for that matter). I knew they did these things, but I never really understood why until one cold, cold day when I was in upper elementary school.
I awoke that morning earlier than usual. It was as if I sensed something was different. I walked sleepily into my parents’ room, where my mom was getting dressed as usual. Then, I heard my daddy crying in the bathroom. But not just crying – sobbing.
Of course, I was instantly terrified because I had never really seen my strong daddy cry. He was always affectionate, loving, and apt to tear up and cry over something sweet or sad. But this was different. Very different!
I was so distraught that my mom had to stop and comfort me and explain. And what I learned that day changed me forever. (Looking back, it’s probably the day I became a teacher.)
See, my daddy was the son of hard-working Mississippi sharecroppers. He was the 13th of 14 children, and life was good but not easy for the Wilsons back then. They were loved and fed and cared for, but they never lived in a house as nice and warm as ours. And my daddy never forgot those cold, harsh mornings of wintertime.
My mother explained that every year, on the morning of the first real “cold spell” in Mississippi, Daddy always worried that some of his students were cold.
But she told me to listen closely, and I would hear that my daddy was not just crying. He was praying.
She was right.
As I listened, I heard the heart of a teacher, a man who wanted more than an education for his students. He wanted them to have a full life. A life filled with health, happiness, safety, protection, provision, salvation – and education.
That was the heart of Fred A. Wilson. It is the heart of every true teacher. And it is priceless.
So, Mississippi teachers, I salute you. May your heart always be filled with my daddy’s kind of love for your students. The kind that cannot be contained in walls or restricted by the hours in a school day or the days in a school year. That kind of love that endures and prevails – yesterday, today, and forever.