Teaching and Love

The Greeks had at least three words to describe love: eros, or romantic love; philos, or love of family or between friends; and agape, or altruism or unconditional love. I’ve learned about these since I was young and my minister father preached a sermon about agape.

None has ever captured for me the love between student and teacher, but I’m feeling a strong need of such a word this semester. My students have been writing literacy autobiographies and the through line in them is their gratitude for their teachers. Those teachers are sisters and mothers, fathers and grandmothers, and plain old, garden variety school teachers.

I wish I could share the stories with you, but their stories belong to them. I have been encouraging them to share their writing with their teachers, no matter whether sister or high school English teacher. Teachers don’t hear often enough about the difference they’ve made in these young lives.

But I do. I know the men and women who have opened the world of reading and writing to them because these now grown young men and women write about them in captivating detail and with, well, love.

The Greek word for wisdom is “sofia,” so I’m proposing a new word, “sofios.” Sofios will be the love between teachers and students.

It is sofios that inspires teachers to spend money they don’t have so their students can have markers or paper or kleenex or scissors. Sofios guides teachers through the hundreds of papers they read (each making the same errors) with enough patience to encourage young writers. Sofios wakes teachers early in the morning so they can be available to students before the school day begins because some students can’t stay after school.

Sofios challenges children to try again because their teacher has told them, “You’re not failing on my watch.” Sofios opens their eyes to new sights and their ears to new sounds and helps them see their own potential. Sofios lives on in their young hearts so that they can endure the bad eggs, the teachers who don’t care. Sofios tells them they can be the first person in their family to go to college. Hell, they can be the first person in their neighborhood to go to college.

And when they arrive in my college classroom, I am the recipient of the hard work shared between these teachers and their students. I am the recipient of their sofios. Their love gets passed along to me, and I remember that it is an honor to be a teacher.

When I look back and think about my teachers, it is with love, with sofios, that I remember Ms. Cole and Mr. Simmons. These people shared their sofios with so many of us. And it has been an honor to be their student.

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