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Teachers: A Powerful Influence

I had the opportunity to be in our schools on the first days of school. Such excitement—from children, parents and teachers—to welcome a new year with all its promise and anticipation. I was especially struck by the skill and professionalism of our teachers as I watched them meet and greet students, and begin teaching school routines, social skills, and academics immediately. Before the first day, I had the opportunity to speak to all of our new teachers as well. I always have the same comments when I speak to teachers new to the district, but these observations bear repeating for veteran teachers, as well, and for parents and community members.

I always remind teachers how profoundly powerful their role is. Psychologist and teacher Haim Ginott summed it up this way: "I've come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It's my personal approach that creates the climate. It's my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized."

Teachers are human, and they have difficult days, but they cannot let something that happened at home, something that is troubling them, affect their disposition with students. Beyond the daily mood and climate that teachers have power to create, teachers also can affect a student's perception of themselves as a person and as a learner. Ultimately, teachers actually influence the path of a child's learning and their aspirations, and thus perhaps the rest of their life.

I tell teachers that for each of their students, they are now and forever, my teacher. When used in reference to a teacher "my" is not just a possessive pronoun, it is a permanent possessive pronoun. To this day, I speak of "my fifth-grade teacher," Mrs. Barr, with reverence. She taught me to love reading. This was after my second-grade teacher, Ms. Markum, had shaken me by the shoulders and shouted "Pay attention!" until my teeth rattled because I had lost my place in reading the passages in the reader when it was my turn to read aloud. That was nearly 60 years ago, and she is still my second-grade teacher. My Design 1 teacher in freshman design, the first rudimentary course on my way to becoming an architect, critiqued my work in front of the class and convinced me, first semester freshman year, I probably wasn't cut out to be an architect. That same semester, "my" composition and literature professor, Mr. Toburen, reminded me how much I loved words, and writing and literature. He created in me a desire to inspire, to teach. Because of the influence of "my" teachers, the pathway of my career and my life was changed. Today I am in my 43rd year as an educator, and in my seventh decade being in schools as either a student or an educator—because of teachers.

I am still in awe of the responsibility we hold as educators. I am in awe of the trust parents place in us as educators, for I know personally how powerful we are in what we say, what we model, what we reinforce. At this opening of school each year I am grateful to my teachers, and to your children's teachers in West Fargo Public Schools. I hope each day that each of them wields their power over our children with the utmost care. Our children's future, our future, depends in large measure upon our teachers.