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Maya Angelou–A Phenomenal Woman Who Taught by Being

“I would like to be known as an intelligent woman, a courageous woman, a loving woman, a woman who teaches by being.” ~ Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou died today. The news of her passing hit me unexpectedly hard. Though we never met, she was a presence in my life through her words. What a loss. In my mind she was a phenomenal woman who lived up to the standard she set for herself in the quote above. I, too, would like to be known as these things to my friends, family, and students. I hope to be the kind of teacher she has encouraged us to be. Below, I explore some of her words about education that inspire, challenge, and motivate me.

Angelou has said that the influence of teachers is greater than “the most broad, the most wide, the deepest, the most profound influence you can imagine.” I take this responsibility seriously. Whenever a student I taught a decade or more ago seeks me out to thank me, to share happy news, to ask for advice, or to inquire about my well-being, I am reminded of the impact a teacher can have in a child’s life.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,” is perhaps one of Ms. Angelou’s best known quotes and one I remind myself of often. I know that I have the power to uplift or destroy and I want to be sure to use my powers for good.

Angelou encouraged teachers to “Teach because it’s your calling. And once you realize that, you have a responsibility to the young people. And it’s not a responsibility to teach them by rote and by threat and even by promise. Your responsibility is to care about what you’re saying to them, to care about what they’re getting from what you’re saying.” Teaching is not only a calling, it’s an incredibly tough job. To be effective requires more effort than I would have thought possible as a young, idealistic undergraduate. Moreover, teaching is both science and art and it takes years to feel on top of your game. Although I am confident in my level of expertise, I am not complacent. After 20+ years, I am still learning of new ideas to implement and refining my practice because I want to do right by my students. Because I do care about both the information and the child, I refuse to teach by rote and threat or even promise. I want to enrich their minds and their hearts in the brief time we have together in our classroom. This requires constant vigilance and plain old hard work–and I love every minute of it all!

Finally, a quote that appeals to the English teacher in me (and a topic that I’ve written about in a previous post): “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” It is my fervent hope that the reformers who make education policy will eventually involve teachers in the process and realize that we are killing children’s love of learning—especially in the area of literacy. Please, let them read!

Rest softly, dear Maya.


2 thoughts on “Maya Angelou–A Phenomenal Woman Who Taught by Being

  1. Genius! One of the three losses I’ve been dreading. You honor her and inspire me with this testimony. Thank you!


  2. Well said! I too was hit hard and saddened by Angelou’s passing. Here is to carrying on her legacy–each of us a phenomenal woman!


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