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On The Importance of Teachers

by | Aug 20, 2020 | News, Voices of Davidson

By Tim Helfrich

17-year-old soccer phenom, Tim Helfrich

In the fall of 1995, I was a 17 year-old high school senior trying to navigate my way through the social, psychological, developmental jungle of young adulthood, and I found myself way out of my comfort zone in a Creative Writing class with Mrs. Knight. I recently flipped through my notebook from that class and was moderately horrified by the cliched storylines, the run-on sentences, and the excessive use of adjectives.

Yet, I remember the class differently. I remember especially how Mrs. Knight worked and worked and worked with me on my final paper: a personal essay about riding in the car with my older brother at the wheel. As she pushed me to edit and to push for truth and clarity, she helped me discover that I was really writing about my relationship with my brother and my struggle to fill my own shoes. On the final edit, she suggested the title “Shadow Dancing,” and the whole thing crystalized. I proudly typed the words into the heading, knowing that I had discovered something elusive through the writing process that I didn’t even know I was looking for.

This is not meant to be a story about me finding myself (well, partly that); it’s meant to be about teachers. I had Sally Knight as a teacher for only three months, yet I exited her class with: 1. a renewed confidence in myself, 2. the belief that I was a writer, and 3. the instinct that I wanted to be a teacher when I “grew up.” Because that’s what great teachers do; they hold up a mirror for our best selves, they provide support as we struggle, they help reveal pathways forward. We are, many of us, lost without our teachers.

This fall marks the first fall in 14 years that I am not working as a teacher.  It is odd to be without the buzz of anticipation about starting the first day of school, learning the names of new students, setting up the classroom. One of my favorite places to be is in the classroom: an almost magical place for collaborative discovery. I really miss the classroom.

Yet this is a fall like no other. Most students, including all four of my kids, are logging onto Zoom calls instead of walking down hallways to find the right room. They are navigating internet crashes and mistyped passwords instead of figuring out who to sit next to. They are staring at computer screens and muted videos of their classmates instead of high fiving friends in the hallways.

A few days ago I sat in on the orientation for one of my children’s classes, and it was a total train wreck. The teachers kept accidentally muting themselves, others were inadvertently unmuting themselves and awkwardly sharing their frustration with the rest of us, the prerecorded videos wouldn’t play. Instead of 45 minutes, it took more than an hour. This is going to be a long year, I thought. Poor teachers.

But flash forward only three days to yesterday, when my kids were eating ice cream and arguing about who had the best teacher and who had the best day. They each had strong cases to make for themselves. As I toured through the house yesterday visiting their individual, scrapped-together work spaces, I saw engaged kids drawing, raising hands, taking notes, sharing stories, laughing. Peeking at their screens I saw lit up faces of teachers who were somehow, magically almost, turning their zoom rooms into classrooms. Because that’s what teachers do.

School – in 2020.

And I heard one of my daughter’s telling her teacher about how she is learning to swim. They were playing a get-to-know-you game called “What are you great at?”, and Cora was beaming with pride as she spoke about treading water for 47 seconds. Mrs. Warshaw was quick to celebrate her story and asked if, with some extra practice, Cora thought she might be able to do it for a whole minute! She nodded. The exchange kept playing over in my head yesterday, and I found myself feeling optimistic. Mrs. Warshaw was in a small way doing the same thing Sally Knight did for me 25 years ago.

Since its inception in 1998, Summit Coffee has always been about adventure, about celebrating those who push themselves in pursuit of their own summits, and about challenging ourselves to embrace the adventure of growing a business. Amid all of the many challenges presented to us in this pandemic, it is teachers who face perhaps the greatest – and certainly the most important – adventure. They will need to be brave, resilient, optimistic, creative, thoughtful, reflective, and strategic. But they are teachers; they are these things already, and they will help their students meet this great adventure, too.

Summit has also been about supporting its communities. It’s why we have Give Back Fridays that donate a percentage of sales to different organizations each week. This week, your purchases raise money for Asheville City School Foundations and E2D (Eliminate the Digital Divide): two vital organizations serving the school districts in the communities where we serve coffee. It’s also why we started the Team Summit Foundation to help send children from lower-income households to summer camps. Today, TSF is proud to step in and provide internet access to 66 Davidson households in need, providing a pathway for students to get to school and meet their teachers.

So, let’s raise a glass (or a 16 oz. coffee in my case) to teachers! We’ve been giving them 40% off all week hoping to provide a little boost to the ones who usually do most of the boosting. And since we’re all in this together, tomorrow we celebrate “Finally Friday!” with wine and beer specials in our stores. Optimism aside, it’s been a long week.

A few hours ago, over breakfast, I asked my kids who was excited about the school day.  Four hands shot up.  Way to go, teachers!  And thank you.


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