When my husband says to me, “I’m proud of you for how hard you fight,” meaning the ongoing battle against manic-depression, that makes me feel about two feet taller and twice as strong. When he says, “I’m glad you’re so good at keeping the house clean enough,” that makes me happy, too. I know I’m not a great housekeeper, so “clean enough” is high praise.
When my daughter says to me, “All my friends think you’re really cool,” well… who wouldn’t be flattered? Seriously. When she thanks me, in her way, for giving her four years of extra attention and all the education I could manage to squeeze into a homeschooling setting, that makes life worth living.
But I was challenged to think of the best compliment I ever received, and after some pondering, I think it has to come down to two.
In college, I minored in Speech and Theater. I loved everything about it, from solo performances to big plays to painting sets to doing makeup to competing in Forensics Tournaments. I had a bit of a crush on one teacher. Heck, I think every female in the department had a crush on him, and maybe some of the (deeply closeted at Bible college) males. He was tough and demanding, but he wasn’t afraid to give some praise if needed.
During my last semester, I didn’t have any classes with him or contact with him at all. I’d changed from glasses to contacts, done a mind-blowing student teaching job, and among a lot of other things, took part in a production staged by a graduating friend. In the line after the show, which was a one-shot thing, this teacher came up to me, looked at me as if he’d never seen me before, and said, “You were wonderful. And you look lovely.”
Well. Well well well. That was unexpected, and I walked on air for several days after that. All the way through graduation, in fact.
But cool as it was, that’s not my favorite compliment.
For just under ten years, I taught college. I taught journalism and writing and mass media history, among other things. It was early on during that part of my career that I received my best compliment ever. A student lingered after class and said to me, “Y’know, I never thought about it that way before.”
Can a teacher receive a better compliment?
What are we there for, as teachers, if not to help our students see things in ways they’ve never seen them before? Whether an equation, a diagrammed sentence, a previously despised book, a lab experiment or a different slant on some segment of history, teachers make it clear. They make it understood. A good teacher opens doors in minds, not so she can fill them with her own opinions, but so they have room to consider a larger portion of the immense world.
“I never thought about it that way before.” The best compliment ever. I’m honored to have gotten it more than once.
Truth is, I miss it something fierce. Teaching, I mean. Next time around, I’d like to be a teacher again, letting fresh air into sometimes sludgy minds.