In the classroom, my mother was known as "Ms." (pronounced "Miss"). I was and always will be known as Ms.'s daughter.
Even before I was old enough to enroll in school, she'd take me to her classrooms, on class trips and runs to the teacher supply store. I watched her graduate with a master's degree, slave over lesson plans, endlessly grade assignments and take countless students under her wing. For a brief period, I had an older sister — a student my mom took in because her family was going through a hard time.
She taught at inner city elementary, middle and high schools across Philadelphia for over 10 years, then later became a high school counselor. But no matter where she went, her students loved her. She didn't see them as work. She saw them as human beings, and treated them as such.
Though I was never formally her student, my mom taught me, too. Not lessons you can get from a book or a test, but lessons that come with being a teacher's daughter. The ones that come from watching my mother refer to her students as "her kids," taking them into her own home when they had no place else to go, putting her own money, even as a single mother, into books and supplies, and as a counselor, watching her always, always advocate on her students' behalf.
It's her actions as an educator that make me proud to be "Ms.'s daughter," and through those actions that I learned the following life lessons only a teacher's kid would know:
1. You are not their only "kid."
Although I was an only child for the first six years of my life, I was surrounded by countless older "siblings." On bring your child to work days, after school hours or on class trips, I was surrounded by kids who I considered family. Ones that would take turns watching over me in the library, putting my hair in pigtails or taking my hand to explore rides. My mom would talk about her
students kids, their triumphs and setbacks, with such passion, as if they were her own. In a sense, they were.
2. Never judge a book, or person, by their cover.
When my mom became a counselor, and even as a teacher, she knew the struggles kids faced on a daily basis, before they ever stepped foot at the school: Drug-addicted parents, abusive family members, pregnancies, rape. You name it, my mom saw it. Whether their neglect would manifest in lateness or a poor work ethic, she never scolded and she never judged. She simply listened and did what she could to make their lives better.
3. Money isn't everything.
The average teacher salary falls between $40,000 and $50,000. Considering all of the hard work they do, it isn't nearly enough. But it just goes to show that for some teachers, ones like my mom, it was never about the money. It was always about the kids, her coworkers, and the job itself. Money is needed to survive, but as her daughter, I know the impact she made fulfilled her in ways finances ever could — and that's more important.
4. Sacrifice is worth it if it's to help others.
One of my favorite places in the world is Staples, the office supply store. I'm not kidding. I believe this obsession with supplies came from countless runs to Beckers, a teacher supply store in Philadelphia. Going to Beckers was a trip as familiar as running to the grocery store. If my mom's kids needed something they would get it — even if she paid for it herself. Staying up completing lesson plans until 2 a.m is tough, but her kids depended on it. She was happy to oblige.
5. Love isn't exclusive to family.
I watched my mom form bonds with other educators and students, alike, over the years. Some will occasionally invite her to their child's baptism or a wedding. Others will simply write on her Facebook wall, thanking her for how she's impacted their lives in ways that can't be quantified. I remember one student, in particular, had started hanging out with us on weekends while I was in elementary school. She was going through a weird time, jumping from guardian to guardian, until my mom stepped in to have her stay with us for the time being. During that time, my mom was more than just a teacher, she was a protector. That student was no longer just a student, she was family.