leading the young
So often, I think children are seen as things that need to be reigned in, rather than individuals who have minds that need cultivating.
Parents obviously make a big impact on their children, but so do teachers. The first teacher who had a real hand in shaping how I saw the world was a man named Tom Schaefer. He seemed so foreign to me. Growing up in small-town Oregon, he was the first Jewish person I'd met (not that I thought to differentiate). He would take off strange sounding days like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and his olive skin and hooked nose made him stand out among the pale white backwater stock typical to the area. I remember how he would stand in front of the room, his shoulders slightly stooped and his pot belly protruding from his otherwise sturdy frame. He would perch his reading glasses on top of his head while he was addressing the class, and how he read!
He would spend hours of our class days, forgoing math and science assignments to read to us, creating worlds for our imaginations to get lost in. He got so wrapped up in the words -- laughing sometimes, reading ahead and chortling to the point of tears in a long pause. Or he'd cry, too, choked up by what was in front of him, the words sticking in his throat. Unafraid to show his emotions, he was calm and happy most of the time, but the one or two times he got angry hinted at a deeper sense of passion and conviction of right and wrong.
And he never condescended. He spoke to our little group of 11-year-olds as if we were adults, subverting our innocent minds with humor, taking pleasure in ushering us along to a deeper understanding of life and the world around us. Of course, that choice was ours -- we could go along on the journey or not. Some kids clung to him, others were diffident or nonchalant, resistant even. His was a revolutionary kind of leadership -- rife with optimism and understanding. He truly grasped the struggle of those early adolescent years, realized the beginnings of individual passions in each of us and tried to inspire us in ways that would help us realize them, too.