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  • Writer's pictureBill Stauffer

Gratitude Friday 5/14/21 – Grateful for the Educators

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

This gratitude Friday morning I am grateful for the influence and support of educators over the course of my life. The Merriam Webster definition of an educator is simply “one skilled in teaching.” This is an excellent example of the limitations of the written word. It fails to communicate the critical importance of people who dedicate their lives to sharing knowledge, instilling critical thinking skills, illuminating how our world works and passing on our own history.

From where I sit in life, I can think of few things more important to the world than people who have dedicated their lives to educating others. The irony of my current perspective is not lost on me. As I have written about before, in early life I had what could be called contempt for public education. A handful of times, key educators, including my 9th grade English teacher were able to get through the hubris and lack of experience that characterized my formative years. I barely graduated from High School. I thought academics were without value, a testament to how strongly and wrongly one can believe something.

This week, I had the distinct honor of having lunch with and personally acknowledging the contributions of an educator who has had a significant positive impact on my own life. A giant in the field of Social Work education is retiring, Susan McDonald, PhD, LSW Chair of the Social Work Program at Misericordia University and past Board member of the PA – NASW. I first met her as a professor at Kutztown University where I graduated as memorialized in the artwork above by Julie Miller to celebrate the occasion in 2006. Over the years, I have witnessed Dr. McDonald live the values she taught students and work hard to instill the guiding principles of Social Work practice in those under her charge. She has had a significant influence on so many other lives. Such dedication must be honored. I salute you, Dr. McDonald.

I may have never gotten to Kutztown University or even Cedar Crest College (it took me 20 years part time) without the quiet support of educator (and my stepmother), Dr Helen Kohler. A nurse epidemiologist who taught all around the world with a nursing degree, a master’s degree in public health and a doctoral degree in epidemiology. With my father, they spent much of their accumulated life savings supporting students from Africa where as this article illuminates they lived and taught for a decade. She quietly encouraged me to reach a little farther in life. She is a powerful influencer with no attachment to material wealth. Enrichment is a thing of the mind and spirit for her. What an amazing example of a person living their values. Great educators live what they teach and listen in order to learn from their students.

Moravian College acknowledged Helen’s vast contributions in 2018 to nursing education with the Helen R. Kohler Global Experience Endowment and the Helen R. Kohler Restricted Fund for Global Experiences established to support the next generation of students from Rwanda, Kenya and all around the world. My plans to spend a summer working with students in Kenya focusing on addiction and recovery in Eldoret were dashed by a regime change. Her sage advice from lived experience is to leave when the shooting starts, which unfortunately it did as I was planning this, now lost opportunity in 2008. I was limited to supporting recovery efforts in Kenya via emails and shipping books, recovery information, and IC&RC credentialing information. It would have been the experience of a lifetime.

Despite my early life ignorance, education had meant everything to me. It gave me freedom. I would be remiss however to not talk about the deep vein of anti-intellectualism and the abandonment of reason here in America. It is a topic I often mull over. We are a nation that used to be considered a meritocracy, although our system has always been stymied by a lack of equity. Not all ships lift the same in a rising tide, some get sucked into the undertow. Thinking about the significant challenges past and future we have faced as a nation. We will not move forward in a positive way as a country without a sustained nationwide dedication to critical thinking. We are mired in false and misleading information. We must become skilled at navigating through it. The lack of emphasis on facts and reason in our public discourse is obscene. Our founders would be horrified. We owe the next generation that much. It is the least we can do for them.

Grateful for giants in education everywhere. People who have dedicated their lives to teaching, people like Dr. Susan McDonald and Dr Helen Kohler. Teachers nurture and instill knowledge that can empower people and change lives. Helping students find purpose and meaning is noble. I am not sure there is a higher calling. Education is the foundation of a life well lived, and sharing knowledge and wisdom is among life’s best opportunities to pay things forward. Grateful I was afforded so many opportunities to learn in my life and to end up an educator myself. Grateful for some amazing role models in critical thinking, lived values and the importance of teaching in my own life arc from flunky to educator. Life is nothing if not ironic. Grateful for the twisted path life has taken me. Grateful for the keys to life they provided me. Consider thanking the standout educators in your own life, they have earned it.

What are you grateful for today?

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