I believe it takes a special person to be a teacher, but sometimes they are the most exasperating people to deal with. Maybe, it is dealing with snot and hormones every day that makes them that way, but whatever the reason, I find the most tiresome aspect of dealing with them is their tendency to bow down and meekly subject themselves to those who criticize and ridicule them. That may offend some, but I believe it is a very fair assessment of the temperament of most teachers. Rarely do teachers stand up for themselves, and when they do, it is with considerable apologetic fanfare, which in today’s world is a sign of weakness that generates even more abuse and scorn. To teachers’ credit though, they are resilient; they take a licking and keep on ticking. However, teachers have been beaten into submission too long; it is time for them to stand up for themselves and for their profession. It is like my Uncle Cecil use to say, “It’s a poor frog who doesn’t praise its own pond.”
My Uncle Cecil barely had an eighth grade education, but he could have taught today’s teachers a thing or two about self-esteem and standing up for who you are in the world. For sixty-three years he was married to Aunt Birdie, and from all accounts during that time never uttered anything but praise and love for her despite the facts that she had partially blinded him and almost financially ruined him. When he spoke of Aunt Birdie, it was with the utmost respect and appreciation for her as his wife, and he was quick to come to her defense if anyone ever dared speak of her in a negative light.
To hear Uncle Cecil tell it, Aunt Birdie was the most beautiful woman on earth, but in reality a blind man could have seen that she was handsome in a rough sort of way at best. During the early spring when she and Uncle Cecil spent close to sixteen hours a day working the fields, they often sported matching mustaches until she could find time to pluck the scraggly hairs from under her nose with farmer’s tweezers – a pair of needle nose pliers. Uncle Cecil never seemed to mind though. She was his, and he was not ashamed to stand up and say so. Although they lived a hard life, it was a life filled with love and respect for each other in spite of the harsh conditions and Aunt Birdie’s occasional misadventures that left Uncle Cecil half blind and financially broke.
The day Aunt Birdie inadvertently put out Uncle Cecil’s right eye started innocently enough with a piece of chewing gum. You see, Aunt Birdie loved chewing gum, and when I was a kid, I loved to visit her for that very reason. She didn’t have a single tooth in her head, so when she pulled out a piece of chewing gum, which she did quite regularly, she would unwrap it, and hand it to me to get it started for her. Once I got it started she would take it from me and gum munch it for the rest of the day and occasionally attempt to blow a bubble, which is what ultimately got her into trouble. One day while trying to blow a bubble and not having any teeth to help hold the gum in place, she puckered up and spit a gum ball halfway across the room. It hit Uncle Cecil square in the right eye. He yelled and screamed and staggered around the room like a blind dog in a meat market. He was blind in that eye until the day he died. Mama was so afraid that he was going to kill Aunt Birdie that she stayed over with her and Uncle Cecil for a solid week. That meant my sisters and I had to eat my Daddy’s cooking of skillet fried steak, grits, eggs, and bacon at every meal. I almost wished Mama had stayed another week.
However, Uncle Cecil didn’t kill Aunt Birdie. If nothing else, they became closer than ever. Daddy said with only one eye Uncle Cecil only had to look at half of her at a time. He said that made her almost tolerable looking. The strangest part of the story was that despite losing his right eye to the gum ball and then a couple of years later almost losing his farm due to Aunt Birdie’s compulsive gambling on tick racing over at Myron McFadden’s place in Lamar County, he always found something positive and even loving to say about his wife. The ladies at his church often swooned over his thoughtfulness and graciousness toward Aunt Birdie. Uncle Cecil always the humble kind would just shrug and say, “It’s a poor frog who doesn’t praise its own pond.” He reasoned she could have just as easily put out both his eyes, and at worst tick racing was a seasonal bad habit, so he felt he had a lot to be thankful for in his life, but most of all he was appreciative for the opportunity to be a farmer because that is what he loved to do, and he was thankful to have Aunt Birdie in his life because that is who he loved to do it for. Though his life was hard, he was proud of who he was, and although Aunt Birdie was not perfect, he was proud to have her as his wife. The best thing though was that he was not afraid to stand up and let the world know he was proud to be a farmer and even prouder to have Aunt Birdie at his side. Uncle Cecil praised his pond every chance he had an opportunity.
So, why can’t teachers be more like Uncle Cecil? Why can’t they understand that “It’s a poor frog who doesn’t praise its own pond?” Teachers are special people, and they do not need to apologize to anyone for themselves or their profession; they should stand proud and self-confident in who they are and what they do for a living. In a society in need of role models, they need not be afraid to point out all that is good with themselves and their profession. If teachers do not, few others will do so on their behalf.
Teachers need to begin each day with a focus on the great things they will do that day, and end the day with a focus on the great things they have done that day. They need to stop and remember that teaching is like a sandwich, the teacher forms the top and bottom and the students are protected, nurtured, and grown in the middle – without teachers there are no doctors, lawyers, politicians, mechanics, businessmen, nurses, welders, and the list goes on and on and on. Teachers need to quit undervaluing themselves, and take a lesson from Uncle Cecil – be appreciative of the gifts and opportunities God has given them. Teachers need to understand that sometimes it is okay to lay aside their “people pleasing” hat, put on their “toot and tell it” hat, and toot the hell out of their own horns. Teachers need to be proud of themselves and their profession. They do not need to apologize to anyone for who they are or for what they do for a living. After all, like Uncle Cecil would tell them, “It’s a poor frog who does not praise its own pond.”
©Jack Linton, 2014