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The Person and the Profession

By Vanessa Abrahams, CEI Intern

Hiding behind boxes of produce was futile. As a tall and very talkative fourth grader, I didn’t blend well with the stalks of celery and assorted dressings. It would be moments before the focus of the conversation was directed to me since my congenial mother and astute teacher had already exchanged smiles and a few words. Quite suddenly I didn’t know where to place my hands or where to look. The sudden awkwardness overcoming me was a direct response to seeing my fourth grade teacher in the supermarket of all places.

The distinct memory of being nine years old and uncomfortably gawking at my fourth grade teacher as she shopped in the same aisle as my mother stands out for several reasons. Perhaps I had always envisioned something of a dormitory wherein teachers would meet in the lounge to eat and socialize, share anecdotes, and when the bell tolled, lived in their classrooms, under their desks on a well-hidden pullout mattress. Now standing under the harsh fluorescent lights, it came as a direct shock that she was not confined to the classroom as previously conceived, but rather had two young daughters, a husband and a house two neighborhoods over from mine.

I am discovering now that what astounded me most was that my teacher was more than an educator. Because I’d seen my teacher in one context, I learned to associate her solely with coming in every morning to teach us a new lesson, return our graded homework, and make informative remarks. It was easier to see the educator rather than the educator’s character’” the profession rather than the person.

My sixth grade Math teacher was the first teacher I remember to have successfully mediated the person versus profession boundary, and was an easy student favorite because of how well she navigated her position. Her success was due to the fact that she remained personable, fostered a teacher-student bond, and shared elements of her life, which reminded us all of her beating heart.

Compassion Means Showing You Care

Robert Wilder, an acclaimed author, essayist, researcher, and educator, produced a pensive and revealing narrative speaking on his teacher-student bond with Mary, a student who lost her friends and fellow classmates in a deadly drunk driving accident (Wilder, 2009, p. 1). It was challenging for Wilder to assume a supportive role because he taught the students who were killed in the crash only six weeks prior and personally knew one of the deceased students. Wilder describes his mind in the weeks that followed as being ‘in many worlds,’ and by the end, it’s Wilder who takes comfort in Mary’s supportive kindness (Wilder, 2009, p. 2). This was a powerful narrative because it showed how much his student cared for him in return.

While some educators may enjoy their private lives and teach from a distance, Wilder found great satisfaction in welcoming his students into his life and expressed his gratitude receiving the kindness extended to him. Considering the connection Wilder has with his students, it’s also revealing to examine the impact of teachers on the opposite side of the spectrum who don’t relate to their students. Laurie Anderson, author of Speak, addresses this matter in these following quotes:

‘My English teacher has no face. She has uncombed stringy hair that droops on her shoulders. The hair is black from her part to her ears and then neon orange to the frizzy ends. I can’t decide if she had pissed off her hairdresser or is morphing into a monarch butterfly. I call her Hairwoman. . . Hairwoman wastes twenty minutes taking attendance because she won’t look at us. She keeps her head bent over her desk so the hair flops in front of her face. She spends the rest of class writing on the board and speaking to the flag about our required reading. She wants us to write in our class journals every day, but promises not to read them. I write about how weird she is.’ (Anderson, 1999, p. 6)

It’s apparent Melinda, the main character, doesn’t view her teacher as a person, but rather a profession. The disconsolate manner in which she describes her teacher is anything but flattery. Placing the fictional character of ‘˜Hairwoman’ up against someone like Wilder truly clarifies the importance of compassion when working with students.  A little humanity can go a long ways.


  1. Anderson, L. (1999). Speak. Harrisonburg, VA: RR Donnelley & Sons Company.

  2. Wilder, R. (2009). The powerful bond of teachers and students. Retrieved from

Photos are from– ‘Supermarket Shopping’ by Ambro; ‘Female Student Learning’ by David Castillo Dominici

CEI Note to Administrators:  How do you encourage your teachers to share more than knowledge with their students?


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