On Valentine’s Day, my eleven-year-old son Sam begged me to allow him to buy his teacher an enormous red heart filled with delectable chocolates. We compromised, and he bought her a smaller but respectably sized heart. On his small budget, $4.99 was a huge investment, and I was touched by his generosity.

Sam has not always loved teachers. He doesn’t yet admit that he likes school, but he does like to hang out in his classroom after three o’clock, and he is excited about some class projects.

Last year, Sam’s most memorable achievement was having the longest “missing assignment” list in the entire fifth grade. He struggled all year to keep his head above the academic sea. Many nights Sam sank into tears of frustration while working his way through another pile of homework.

In defense of his fifth grade teacher, she didn’t really assign two hours of homework each night. Sam was bringing home all of the work he had not finished in class each day. His focus was somewhere else when the other students were doing their class work. He may have traveled to Narnia or Middle Earth or Alagaesia. Wherever he was, it must have been much more interesting than fifth grade because he spent a lot of time there. Sam approached sixth grade with the anticipation of one awaiting a root canal.

I must admit I was concerned when I first met Mrs. Hogan. She was a beginning teacher. She seemed so young and sweet and inexperienced. How was this new teacher going to lift up a boy who had learned to dread school?

As the first weeks of school flew by, the same missing assignment issue reappeared. Then, slowly, it began to disappear. Sam had his assignment notebook filled in every day. Amazed, I wondered aloud which bribe had inspired him. “Mrs. Hogan checks everyone’s notebook every day, Mom.” Sam reported.

As I observed this teacher’s interactions with my son at the end of each day, I realized that Sam’s inattentiveness and disorganization were not the primary things that Mrs. Hogan noticed about him. She recognized Sam as a knowledgeable, capable student who loves to read. He rose to her expectations.

Sam began to do his homework without numerous reminders or a major search through his crowded backpack. He brought home less and less class work. He earned six A’s on his second-quarter report card.

I still don’t know how much of this miracle is due to the magic of maturity and how much is due to the magic of Mrs. Hogan. I do know that my son loves his sixth grade teacher, and I think there is a magic in relationships that can motivate children when nothing else will.

I believe that every child should have at least one teacher whom he absolutely loves and admires. Every child should have a teacher who inspires his best effort. Every child should have a teacher who inspires the purchase of a candy-filled heart on Valentine’s Day.

Kathy Heffernan and her husband are raising three children in Missoula, Montana. They have also helped raise three grown foster sons.


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