Wednesday, April 16, 2008

“Keep the Faith”: Some Compensation is Delayed for Decades

Choosing education as a career takes an enormous “act of faith”. Faith in our ability to affect students in a positive way. Faith that we will make a difference. Faith we will be compensated, not only with money, but also with a knowing we contributed to our students’ lives. But as educators, some of our compensation can be delayed for decades.

While being introduced by the superintendent, to speak to a large group of building level leadership teams, I noticed an envelope labeled “My Hero” had been placed on my computer keyboard. Curious, I opened it, while knowing I had only a few minutes before I was to begin speaking.

Here is what I read as tears streamed down my face and the audience and the superintendent wondered what they had gotten into when hiring this speaker.

Dear Mrs. Roekle,
Look around the room. Can you find me? It’s been 30 years since I was in your 1st grade class at Patterson Elementary. You have been such an inspiration in my life. I knew when I left first grade that I wanted to be a teacher, just like you. I’m glad to see that you are still inspiring people today. I credit you for teaching me how to care for children and love them. What an impression you made on me, because you made me feel special. Thanks for the education that will last a lifetime.

Your admiring former student,

Lori Bowling Burack

Along with Lori’s note was the original graduation card I had sent her 11 years after having her in my first grade classroom, and there I was, holding this card 20 years after I mailed it. (I had a practice of sending a graduation card to every student whom I taught or to whom I was principal, no matter what grade.) The cards always consisted of their school picture from our time together, and a note telling them how proud I was of them. Well… Lori Burack had kept the card throughout her life, and as she explained later: through two husbands, four children, and five household moves. She explicitly told me I was not to keep it… she wanted it back.

As you might imagine, I had no problem spotting Lori in the auditorium, she had not changed in my eyes in 30 years. Same beautiful brown eyes, same dark hair, same energy, and oh yes, the same extraordinary smile I remember beaming from her desk in the second row.

I tell this story to remind you to “keep the faith”. Because each of us have, or will have, students who treasure and appreciate the gifts we give. YOU have a Lori Burack out there who would love to thank you personally for the “education that will last a lifetime”, as she wrote in her note. I was just lucky enough to bump into one of mine. It was worth the wait!

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