“Hands We See, Not Hear,” April 28, 2020

The first time I set foot in her classroom, I spotted it right away: She was born to teach.

I remember that day clearly. The school year had just begun, but her kindergarteners had already learned the routine. They sat quietly, no fidgeting, in a circle on the floor, waiting for their teacher to begin.

“May I join you?” I asked.

“Of course!” she said. “Class, let’s welcome Mrs. Randall!”

She led them in a round of applause for me as I sat cross-legged in the circle.

“Before we begin,” she said, “I want to remind you all. How do we ask questions? That’s right! We raise our hand. I only call on hands I see, not hands I hear!”

It was a small class, but I knew most of the students well. On my left, J.J. stared up at me without blinking. On my right, Tuffy kept licking my hand.

Along with a Cabbage Patch Kid and a Shetland sheep dog, the circle included a stuffed rabbit named Rabbioli, a scantily clad Barbie doll named Barbie, and a few heavily-armed G.I. Joe action figures on loan from the teacher’s big brother.

The teacher, my daughter, was a few weeks shy of turning 5, but had taken to kindergarten, as my mother would say, like a smart little piglet to slop.

Every day after school, Joanna would come home and run straight to her room to set up her circle of “students.” Anyone was welcome to join the circle, as long as they could behave.

That, of course, ruled out her big brother and all his buddies, but not his G.I. Joes. She tried to include her younger brother, who was 2, but he could never seem to resist wrestling with the dog and would always end up getting sent to the office.

Her dad, a high school teacher, liked to join the circle when he was home, but was forbidden to ask “annoying” questions, even if he raised his hand.

I so loved watching her teach. Both then and now. To see her focus on a single student, or an entire classroom. To hear her speak in that tone that seems to say, “I know you can do this. If you need help, I’m here.”

She learned those skills in part by watching a pro, her kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Novelli. But like her teacher, Joanna was born with an ability and a desire to bring out the best in everyone — dolls, dogs, boys, girls — even in her mother.

So she grew up to be a “real” teacher, both in the classroom and as a reading specialist, always with the same ability and desire to bring out the best, and to be the best, for every child entrusted to her care.

Do I sound like I’m bragging? My granddad used to say that bragging’s not bragging if you’ve got the truth to back it up. I’ve known a lot of “real” teachers. So have you. We need to brag more often about how much they mean to us and our children and grandchildren.

The most important part of every child’s education — after the support and encouragement they receive at home — is not the content of their curriculum, but the character of their teachers. We can’t “hear” a teacher’s hands, but we “see” their touch in the lives of their students.

Recently, when schools closed for the coronavirus quarantine, districts scrambled to find ways to provide “distance-learning.” Many teachers, like my daughter, are now teaching from home, meeting with students and parents online to explain assignments and answer questions as best they can.

Last week, when her wireless connection failed, Joanna came to our house (keeping socially distant) to meet with her third-graders online from our garage.

I wish you could’ve heard her.

I eavesdropped through a wall, didn’t get all the words, but the tone was crystal clear. Maybe I was dreaming, but I could almost hear her say, “Hands I see, not hands I hear.”

“Real” teachers find ways to connect with their students — even from their mother’s garage.


  1. William R Swanson says

    I have been a college professor 29 years. I STRONGLY agree the character of teachers (i.e. how we treat our students) is the most important part of a student’s education. They will remember that far longer than any content we teach them.

  2. A. Davis says

    Well said, as usual. We are lucky to have Joanna as one our best especially during this squirrelly time. Her mom, too, to capture the teachable moment.


  3. Great timely truth about teachers! Such valuable resources! God bless, protect teachers & students throughout our nation and world. Thank you for this great reminder to appreciate teachers! Katie

  4. Kate Sciacca says

    “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it!” Nothing better than a proud mama 😉

    Looks like things are going quite well in CA…. hope you all get back to normal soon. Very few cases here… trails and lakes and rivers were quite busy this past weekend- all of them open to those who want to get out 🙂

  5. joyce bock says

    I can just see it so vividly. Joanna teaching from your garage is a treasure!

  6. Dick Daniel says

    Wonderful. Teaching takes place best when done with love.

  7. Sharon I LOVE the line about content of character…it is SO true! Teachers can have a lasting influence on a student, long after the student has grown. My long ago teachers who gave me something I still remember. These days it is SO important!

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