#WhenIWas15 I lost my mother, and this world lost a wonderful teacher.
LinkedIn asks its members to share what they wanted to be when they were 15, to celebrate its15th birthday. Here is my memory.
My mother was a biology and maths teacher. After being a stay-at-home mum and managing a grocery store, she decided to go for a carreer switch; she wanted to become a teacher. She was dedicated during her studies, and even more so when she started her traineeships. Soon, she started teaching her own classes, and I vividly recall the smile on her face whenever she talked about her students. They inspired her, made her laugh. A couple years later, she was offered the position of team leader. She accepted it, with her only demand being that she could still teach classes. A colleague with whom she shared an office told us after she passed away, that whenever a student came in, she wouldn't ask what was up. She would ask: "What can I do for you?". She was always willing to listen, always willing to help.
The day she passed came without a warning. She was on her way to school, and went into cardiac arrest out of nowhere. Despite the best efforts of doctors, she died of pulmonary embolism at the age of 45.
That same afternoon, two 'cool boys' had found our address and rang our doorbell. I opened the door and they took off their baseball caps. They had tears in their eyes and said they were sorry for our loss. They were about the same age as me. They told me how much my mother had helped them. How she saw through their difficult behaviour, and was always there for them.
So many students were affected by her death. As a family, we asked the school if the students who wanted to attend the funeral, would stand along the road to her grave. The amount of people that turned up was unbelievable. So many students, alumni, and colleagues were standing there, some holding hands. It was then when I truly realised how many lives my mother had touched.
#WhenIWas15 I didn't want to become a teacher, or be involved in education. I had dreams of becoming a professional photographer, of being an entrepreneur. I never even considered teaching, up until half a year before I graduated secondary school. Several teachers of mine asked me if I wouldn't be interested in teaching. I didn't want to consider it at first, in fear of people thinking that I wanted to go into teaching because I wanted to be like my mother. Eventually I gave in.
I discovered my passion in teaching. I discovered how much I love teaching students, how much I enjoy the interaction, and the great interest I have in the brain's ability to learn. When I first started teaching, it was weird to be called 'Ms. Van der Spoel', as to me, that was my mother. It felt like an honour, too.
I still have no intention to follow in my mother's footsteps, and being just like her. I do want to use all she taught me, and share that with anyone who wants to hear. She taught me how important it is to truly see people, to appreciate them. To hear their stories, and to look beyond 'difficult' behaviour. To ask, to offer help. She taught me to be authentic and loving. She taught me to look for what could be learnt from mistakes, and to help people feel comfortable in their mistakes. And most of all, she taught me to do all this unconditionally.
And the most beautiful thing of all, she never told me any of this; she just led by example. I hope we can all do the same.