Teachers Aren’t Always Teachers by Natalie D. Richards

Life has taught me that teachers aren’t always the folks at the front of the classroom.  I don’t learn most of the important things in school, but rather in the realm of reality.  Sadly, this means I often learn best when punched squarely in the teeth with a dose of real life.

Today’s teaching moment came from a neighbor – a grandmother who’s dropping one of two boys off at the bus stop.  She’s an on-top-of-it kind of grandma, always ten minutes early, fully dressed with steaming coffee and commentary on the neighborhood. 

I am her comic counterpoint.  We usually screech to the bus stop in a trail of untied shoes and half-zipped backpacks.  My eldest takes the bus earlier, but our mornings disintegrate by the time my two girls with their hair doojies and stuffed animal clip-ons are involved.  Frankly, most mornings as the bus pulls away, I’m just hoping that A) the girls have brushed their teeth and B) I haven’t forgotten to put on pants.

This morning was…not our best.  The kids had to bolt out the door flying after the bus as it hissed to a stop.  The bus waited ten seconds, the girls loaded, and then my newest unintentional teacher delivered my lesson. 

The grandmother shook her head and said to the bus driver, “Honestly, I just don’t understand why they can’t get down here earlier.”

She probably didn’t know I could hear.  She almost certainly didn’t know it would make me feel like a pile of crap.  And she definitely didn’t know I’d be writing a post about this seemingly insignificant moment of mild neighborly judgment.    

But there I was, slumped shoulders and heavy heart all the way back up my driveway.  I wasn’t in the mood to learn, but there the lesson sat.

Why can’t I get down there earlier?  Is it my kids’ struggles with attention or our scary-busy life or maybe my dad’s recent terrifying two-weeks in the hospital?  Is it just the wear and tear of three kids and deadlines and work, or worse…am I just inept?


But is that the lesson I need to learn?  That I’m not good enough?  I don’t think so.  I think this moment is teaching me that I want to be careful.  Careful of my words, my looks, my little side-line comments that people might overhear.  I think most of us want to be kind.  Our intentions are usually good, but today taught me that intention isn't enough.

I could chalk this whole encounter up to a crappy morning, but with this post on my mind, I saw this moment and that woman as a teacher.  There are amazing, gifted people in the world who make their living (or spend countless volunteer hours) passing on knowledge and wisdom to the people around them.  But there are unintentional teachers out there, waiting at bus stops and coffee shops and school locker rooms.  We can learn from them too.

So, maybe the next time I see another mom in the grocery store—probably the one with the coffee stain down her shirt who can't find her debit card and is making me really late—I'll be more careful.  If I’m honest, on a bad day I might not be able to offer more than a tight smile, one that’s a half-inch of nice layered over a whole pile of please-get-it-together-like-me. But what if I didn’t?  What if I looked her right in the eye and said, “I can so relate.  Don't worry about it.”

And what if I actually meant it?

This morning could have gone differently for me.  If grandma had pumped her fist in the air and whooped “They made it! Close one!” when they got on the bus, I would’ve laughed it off and gotten busy with my day.  I wouldn’t have been derailed, I would have been boosted. 

But her lesson encouraged me to challenge myself and anyone else who’s game—let’s tread lightly, guys.  Let's be gentle with one another.  Life’s not nice, but we can be.


  1. Natalie, this is so beautiful. It's something I've been thinking about a lot lately, especially since I had a baby ten days ago and felt the mommy guilt settling in in the hospital. I will always remember the difference between the nurses who were kind and encouraging and the ones who were...not. However, I've had plenty of "not fully together" moments in my pre-baby life, too, and that made me think that you never know what kind of day, week, or life someone is having. I never want one of my thoughtless moments to be the thing that pushes someone over the edge. Thanks for this reminder.

    1. Aw, thanks. I was really nervous about this one. I'm usually a total class clown and this felt dangerously close to sentimental or something. o.O I'm really glad it came across well. And oh man the nice nurses change everything, don't they? HUGE congrats on the baby. That's big stuff. Cuddle a bunch and be as lazy as life will let you. :)

  2. Nat, say the word, and I am in my car and driving over to your bus stop and giving Granny a piece of my mind. In all seriousness, good post-- as someone who's been on the frazzled, judged side and sadly, as someone who's been the Judger. Thanks for the reminder to be kinder...

    1. Me too, Jody. That's why my anger was sort of short-lived. I was a little cool at the stop this morning, but I worked really hard not to be unfriendly. It's easy to slip into ickiness. :( But I do appreciate the offer....maybe we should talk wine instead! ;-)

  3. Aw, thank you so much! It was just a moment and I'm glad it has passed. But today, it did hold my tongue with someone else having a not-together day which is a good benefit. :)

  4. "Let's be gentle with one another. Life’s not nice, but we can be." Yes, please.


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