September 15, 2016 9:57 am Searching for Special Teachers All Over the World
I read that Albert Camus, French author, philosopher and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957, afterwards wrote a thank you letter to a teacher from his elementary school years in Algeria. Camus told Louis Germain that when he won the prize, he thought first of his mother, and then of him. As a child, Camus’ prospects for a successful life had been dim. His father died in World War I; his mother was an illiterate and nearly deaf house cleaner; the family was very poor.
Louis Germain saw something special in the small boy. Camus wrote that Germain “extended an affectionate hand” to him. Camus praised Germain’s hard work and “generous heart” in teaching him. After receiving the prestigious honor, he wanted to thank Germain for making such a difference in his life.
What kind of teacher changes a child’s life for the better? First and foremost, he or she sees the child as a unique person, rather than part of the class. That teacher spends time listening, encouraging, asking questions and becoming aware of the child’s interests, special abilities, and dreams.
Second, the teacher reaches out to the child who is poor, or unable to speak the host language, or from a different culture. If the child stutters, is terrified, smells different, has poor social skills, has nothing for lunch, has a difficult family structure, the teacher makes an extra effort to help.
Third, that teacher is willing to be affectionate, showing the child that he is valued and accepted. In the relationship between teacher and child, there is humor, caring, and communication, both playful and serious. The teacher does all he or she can to forge bonds with the child’s family members, whatever their circumstances, thus further demonstrating to the child that he belongs in the world.
Such a teacher can change a child’s life report card from failure to thrive to full realization of his potential. He can take someone who is floundering and set him on the road to success. In this difficult world of the twenty-first century, so many children of all backgrounds need a teacher like Louis Germain to give them hope and a future. A dedicated teacher enriches a child’s life and he or she enriches his own as well.
Marianne Riess is the former head of the Putnam Indian Field School in Greenwich, CT. She has 40 years of experience in working with young children.