Thanks to My First Teachers

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I was born into a family of educators.

Growing up, I heard stories about my great-uncle, a headmaster in Guyana. His wife was a lauded elementary school teacher. My father and mother continued the tradition, teaching at the university and secondary school levels. At annual Guyanese reunions in New York I would meet former students who would proudly introduce their kids and laud my parents for the impact they made on their lives.

As we celebrate National Teacher Appreciation Week, I am inspired by Charles Blow’s op-ed column in The New York Times to publicly thank two teachers who have never failed me: my parents.

I seldom recall a period when my parents were not engaged in the act of learning and teaching. When I was born in 1991, my dad, William Panaram, was pursuing a doctorate in plant sciences in North Dakota. Shortly after we moved to the Bronx, my mom, Dhanwanti Panaram, started night classes working towards a master’s degree in nutrition. While my mom studied, she also managed a full-time job, raised me, and learned a new city.

Both committed to their family as much as they committed to their studies. As I watched their schooling experiences, I learned that receiving an education revolved around much more than maintaining high grades. Instead, a true education – one worthy of emulation – has meaning when its learners give back to those around them.

My dad spends each day of the school year working with students at the High School for Violin and Dance in the Bronx. In past summers, he assisted middle school students preparing for the Specialized High Schools Admissions Test. My mom has dedicated her life to serving elderly residents in nursing homes and private homes as a registered dietitian. She also works alongside physicians providing nutrition counseling.

Both give of themselves without reservation. Both show me daily how to live as a humble learner. Both teach me how to love. My parents – my educators for life – make it clear that a teacher’s job extends far beyond the classroom. A meaningful teacher stays with their students forever, in mind or in person.

It is a result of living, learning, and loving with my first teachers that I am committed to being a teacher myself, helping young students think freely and develop own their ideas.

During National Teacher Appreciation week, while many of the education discussions revolve around teacher evaluations, low salaries, and improving methodologies, we must take time to thank those who give themselves daily to the hardest work I know: educating growing minds.

National Teacher Appreciation week might come around once a year but the reality is that every single day we need to thank those who care more for others than they do for themselves.

Who will you thank today?