It has been just over 24 hours since The Heart of a Teacher aired on Hallmark Channel, and my mind and heart are still reeling. Screenwriter Derek Thompson wove such essential life lessons and classroom truths into 40 minutes that he had me in tears on multiple occasions. Not only did he reveal the heart of a teacher, he broke teachers’ hearts, as well.
You see, at the core of the teacher’s heart is the desire to reach every student and to make a lifelong impact on each special soul that graces our classrooms. While we know that this is not always possible, the dream remains the same. It is the axis around which our educational world revolves. Each struggling student, shy student, eager student, complacent student weighs on our hearts even after we turn off the lights at night. Teaching is not a profession that one leaves on the desk at the end of the day. It is a daily battle for another person’s future.
In the very first episode of When Calls the Heart, the widows of Coal Valley impress upon Elizabeth that she will not only be teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, she will be “fighting for their futures.” In this most recent episode, Elizabeth sees the battle charge handed to another over false allegations against her character. Her teacher’s heart, however, does not break over the dirtying of her reputation. Her heart rips in pieces when she discovers that this “old school” teacher subscribes to the “one-size-fits-all” method of instruction. The lessons Elizabeth has taught her students – to be kind, to help one another, and to enjoy learning – have been replaced with rote memorization and fear of reprisal.
That broke my teacher’s heart. On a daily basis, I strive to make learning interesting, fun, and challenging for all of my students, regardless of their level. To truly teach the student, you must know the student. To know the student, you must know their story. Elizabeth knows each student’s weaknesses and strengths. She uses the strengths to overcome the weaknesses. Timmy plays the piano because it opens his mind and heart to other ideas. Philip gets help in class because he doesn’t have the home life that can always support his learning. Little Opal brings her precious Brownie to class everyday because it makes her feel safe. When one feels safe, encouraged, and understood, one can learn.
All of those children despise Mr. Stoneman and his approach to learning, but this is also wrong. Just as they want to be understood, they need to seek to understand. When they take their fears to Ms. Thatcher, she supports Mr. Stoneman, which is brilliant writing on Mr. Thompson’s part. As educators, we cannot undermine another’s authority. Unless a child is in physical pain, or the teacher is acting unethically, we need to support and encourage each other, building trust and unity within our team. Elizabeth’s approach to introducing Mr. Stoneman to new teaching methods is paramount; she explains how the children must respect their teacher and follow the rules, but she also encourages them to continue to speak out in a respectful manner. As Brian Bird explained in his production “vlog” for this episode, the children of Hope Valley learn valuable lessons about civil disobedience and the “right to speak the truth against injustice.” They also learn that it is best to act in love and not in anger.
My heart still aches for Elizabeth. Emblazoned in my mind is the image of her distraught face on the verge of tears as she watched her students scale the schoolhouse steps on a bright, spring morning. What should have been a fresh new day in the classroom, facing an audience of smiles, was a day of anguish for her. In true Elizabeth fashion, she persists through the heartache by tutoring and planning a recital for the kids after school, providing a safe and loving environment beyond the schoolhouse.
And so we do the same in our own classrooms. Despite setbacks with particular students, we delve deeper into their stories and find ways to reach them within and beyond the confines of the school walls. We find ways to speak into their lives. Hopefully, as a result of our encouragement and vision for their futures, they will learn to speak truth against the injustices that they face in their own worlds. In some ways, we are all Elizabeth – fighting for the futures of our students by loving them into learning.