“Be kind,” my dad used to say, almost every time we left the house.
In high school, I mostly ignored his words. It’s what high schoolers do. When I left home and the parting was more significant, I paid a bit more attention, but still barely noticed what words he chose to use in parting.
It was always the same, though. “Be kind.” Not “be spectacular”, “be successful”, or “be brilliant”. Just “be kind”.
Last week, as I was preparing notes for the last class of the first session of the course I’m teaching, I invited my Facebook friends to inspire me with stories of inspirational teachers. In the comments I learned of a teacher who’d helped students study for a test in a different subject than he was teaching; a high school teacher who went the extra mile and invited students to visit a university class; a teacher who made a point of knowing every student by name and greeting them in the hallway accordingly; a teacher who told the students with honesty and warmth that they would learn more outside his classroom than in it; a teacher who would lead students through a guided imagery meditation to help them relax before tests; and a teacher who sent an amazing email as a send off to the students just before Christmas.
What struck me as I read these comments and prepared for my class was this: every one of these teachers was remembered for one simple thing – kindness. It wasn’t their brilliance, their creativity, or their talent. It was their simple effort to extend humanity and kindness.
Yesterday, after our last class was completed and we’d wished each other a happy Christmas break, several of the students came to thank me for what they said was “one of the best classes they’d taken”. I heard words like “it was a pleasure being in your class every Wednesday – you made it a fun, relaxed environment”, “thank you for helping us build community in our classroom”, “I feel like you’ve become a friend and not just a teacher”, and “thank you for giving so much of yourself to us.”
I think I was floating when I left the class. Even without their words I knew that this teaching thing is part of what I’ve been called to do. And I could walk away from my first attempt knowing I had done well.
On the bus ride home, my dad’s words came back to me. “Be kind.”
I don’t know if I was an exceptional teacher, or if I’ll be the one these students will remember ten years from now when they’re asked to name an inspirational teacher, but I do know that I did my best to live up to my dad’s parting words. And the kindness I gave to my students was given back to me.
When my dad died a sudden accidental death seven years ago, many, many people stopped at the farmyard to share stories with our family. We heard stories of when he’d gone the extra mile to help a neighbour during tough times, when he’d stopped to fix a stranger’s tire, and when he’d helped families work through conflict. None of these were remarkable stories that would go down in the history books labeling my dad as a great success. But I do know one thing – he was remembered for kindness. Those parting words he always left us with weren’t simply a catch phrase, they were a lifestyle.
When I die, Dad, I too want to be remembered for kindness. Thank you for serving as a model.
It’s simple. Just be kind.