There is one day (other than Christmas Eve) that I have learned to avoid shopping in DeKalb, Illinois. That is move-in day at Northern Illinois University. The lines are long, and the aisles are crowded with stressed-out parents and self-conscious freshmen bickering about the things that are “needed” and “not needed” for a dorm room. There’s nothing pleasant about it.
Yet there I was. As I unloaded my groceries onto the conveyor belt, I heard the cashier ask the two young college men in front of me what they were going to study at Northern.
“Political Science? Mechanical Engineering?” asked the clerk.
“Us?” replied one of the young men. “Oh, no. We are just going to be teachers.”
“Oh,” the clerk replied as she finished totaling their items. The men paid and walked out of the store, while I stood momentarily frozen at the checkout.
As soon as my groceries were paid for, I speed-walked to the parking lot, where I spotted them loading their purchases into the trunk of their car. I am not one to talk to strangers, but in this instance I couldn’t stop myself.
I walked up to them and said, “Excuse me. I don’t know you, but I couldn’t help overhearing you in the checkout lane.”
They stared blankly at me.
“I noticed that when the clerk asked what you were going to study at Northern, you answered that you were ‘just going to be teachers.’ I want you to know, I am a teacher, and. . .”
One of the young men stopped me and said, “No, no. We didn’t mean to disrespect you.”
“Oh, you did not disrespect me. I know the value of what I do. You are young and don’t realize it, so I just wanted to tell you that long as you live I never want you to think of yourself as ‘just a teacher’. You two have no idea the power you will have to shape minds, to inspire, to care, to mentor and to change the trajectory of students’ lives. You don’t see it now, but you will. And in the meantime, I want you to promise me you will never, never refer to yourselves that way again. There is no such thing as ‘just a teacher’.”
Maybe they thought I was loony, or maybe I actually inspired them, but they both promised. I said goodbye and walked to my car, feeling exhilarated.
Only later, as I drove home, did I realize how much I must have sounded like, well . . . a teacher.
Guess what? You are not just a teacher either, and you are not just any teacher. You have been specially created to cross paths at just the right times and the right places with the right students to their change their lives forever.