Teaching kids is harder than it looks -- and not everybody has what it takes to do it well. But it was obvious this student teacher had it, that mysterious quality great teachers have; blend of stage presence, knowledge, patience and take-charge toughness.
Teaching math, she was part Einstein, part Mary Poppins, with the flair of a magic act. As the third graders worked together to maneuver marshmallows into number groups, she sang out equations -- "four times six!" -- and they didn't even realize they were learning math. Though she wasn't assigned to my class, I ran into her in the teachers' workroom. I told her I'd caught some of her lesson and how impressed I was.
As the year wore on, I was more and more admiring of her creativity and positive attitude. The future of education is in good shape, I thought, with student teachers like this. I found myself, a veteran teacher, energized by her enthusiasm.
One day, she lacked her usual eagerness. I asked how the student teaching was going and she told me she was dropping out. She couldn't afford to continue. Constant tuition increases made the cost of a university degree impossible and she needed to earn a living. She found a waitress job and was quitting the program.
"The kids are going to miss you," I stammered.