We are never too late to thank our teachers, and never too old to learn from children.

Wide eyes stared with rapt anticipation as the teacher strolled between the rows of desks. The teacher carried a stack of construction paper in her arms, handing a single sheet of fresh clean paper to each child as she gracefully made her way around the classroom. As the paper landed on the desk in front of each child, little hands eagerly selected a preferred color of crayon and hovered over the paper, awaiting the first instruction. The children hunched over their desks, leaning forward in their seats as if they were in starting blocks and waiting for the sound of the gun to start the race.

As the last page fluttered effortlessly to the settle on the small wooden desk, the entire room seemed to take a breath as one. The teacher walked to the front of the room, cradling the remaining paper in her arms. She paused for a moment to stare into the eyes of the expectant children, drinking deeply of the warmth and enthusiasm in the anticipating gazes.

"After you have completed your art project," started the teacher. She paused for dramatic effect, to assure that she had the complete and undivided attention of everyone in the room. "After you have completed your art project, then you can go out to the playground. You will hand in your drawings to me, and then you may walk quietly outside. You must stay in the playground until everyone has finished. Is that understood?"

The children rose up in their chairs and nodded their heads enthusiastically. Some smiled and looked at one another. Others stole glimpses out the window, already making plans for the type of games that they would play in the sunshine.

The teacher explained the project, "I want each of you to draw a picture of a vase that represents your family. I want you to think about your family. Then, I want you to draw a picture of a vase that you think your family would like."

The teacher walked to her desk at the front of the room. She put down the stack of papers, and picked up a vase from the top of her desk. She had brought the vase from her home and filled it with fresh flowers that very morning. Holding the vase aloft, she walked to the center of the room. "This is my vase," explained the teacher. "I like to keep it on my table at home, because I like the beautiful smell of flowers that fills my house. What kind of vase makes you think of your home?"

"Draw a picture of a vase that reminds you of your home. We will put them up on the walls, so you will always have something beautiful in here that will remind you of your home. When you are done, bring your artwork up to me, and then you can go outside." Placing the vase back on her own desk, the teacher reminded the class, "Don't rush too quickly. Remember that we are going to put your vase on the wall for everyone to see. You may begin."

The room was filled with the soft sounds of crayons on paper, little feet shuffling on the floor, and an occasional thoughtful humming sound from one of the students. It was a symphony of movement. Small fingers traced outlines with careful precision, and swept back-and-forth to fill the designs with color. Pages would be lifted, turned, and inspected from different angles to perfect flowers, stems, leaves, and the intricate designs that adorned the carefully crafted images.

One by one, as each child finished, the pages were carefully carried to the front of the room. Each child waited eagerly for the confirmation, radiant smile, and compliments of the teacher. Not a single child was disappointed. The teacher accepted each project as if it were a priceless gift. The teacher shared a personal comment and excitement with each child, identifying something unique and individual about each vase and assortment of flowers. Some of the vases had images of people, like urns that had been adorned with images of Greek Gods. Other vases contained intricate patterns, as if inspired by Easter Eggs. For some of the children, the vase was small and indistinguishable amid the bountiful flowers that filled the page. Each project was unique, and each was beautiful.

The room emptied except for one child who toiled in silence. The little hands did not sweep across the page in a glorious burst of colors, but rather traced shadows of lines with diligence and care. Every once in a while, the child would rest his head on one hand, as he studied the page and contemplated the next move of the crayon.

As the minutes slowly passed, the child became gradually aware that he was the only person remaining in the room with the teacher. He put down the crayon and picked up the page. He stared at the vase for a few moments, as if contemplating to bring it up, or to continue working on it. After much deliberation, the child shuffled to the front of the room and placed the page in the hands of his teacher.

The teacher was eager to see the outcome of this studious and thoughtful work of the student. Thinking that this would be the most stunningly beautiful drawing, she had imagined the things that she could say to reward the inspiration of the young artist. But when the page was in her hands, she stared quietly in confused silence.

"You don't like it," said the child in unmasked disappointment.

"Of course I like it," rebuked the teacher. "I love it."

"Your vase is absolutely beautiful," exclaimed the teacher. "Did you want to draw some flowers in it, too?"

"It won't hold any water," replied the child wistfully.

The teacher thought about this and laughed a little. "Of course it will not hold real water. It is only a drawing," she said.

"My vase cannot hold water, because it is cracked," explained the little boy. Wide brown eyes met the teacher's gaze. She followed his finger to trace the carefully drawn fissures that nearly split the vase in two.

"My parents argue all the time," continued the little boy. "I know that it is not my fault, but our vase if broken. As long as it is broken, we cannot put the beautiful flowers in it, because they will die."

The teacher stared in stunned silence at the image in her hands. She wanted to reach out and pick up the child in her embrace, and to tell him that everything would be alright, but the gesture would feel inadequate in comparison to the deep thought that had gone into this drawing. Despite the emotional surge, the teacher knew that she had to respond appropriately to the precious gift in her hands.

"I have an idea," said the teacher, carefully selecting an assortment of yellow, orange, and brightly colored crayons. "Can you add a candle inside your vase?"

The little boy turned his big brown eyes back to the eyes of the teacher. He could not disguise his confusion and interest.

The teacher continued, "The candle will illuminate the cracks in the vase, so you can see them better. When you can see the cracks clearly, then you will know what you need to do about them. In the meantime, the candle will shine its light through the cracks, and it will fill the vase with warmth. It does not have to be full of flowers to be beautiful in some other special way."

The little boy thought about what the teacher said, and a smile lit up his face. With a twinkle in his eye, the little boy excitedly collected the vibrant colored crayons from his teacher and raced back to his desk. He stared at the page carefully, contemplating his new approach to this project, and then worked furiously to illuminate even the farthest edges of the paper.

As the child deposited the revised page in the hands of his teacher, he did not wait for her comments. Rather, he reached up placed his arms around the neck of his teacher, and gave her the most gentle of hugs. Then he raced out the door to join his fellow students on the playground.

As promised, the artwork was diligently posted around the classroom. The drawings of flowers adorned the walls, but the teacher kept one particular drawing closest to her own desk. Sometimes, after the children had gone home for the day and the classroom was quiet, she would stare at that picture and reflect on the insight of the little boy. She wondered what she would say to the parents when the time came for them to visit the classroom, as would inevitably occur. It did not take long.

As the teacher walked into the classroom, she saw the little boy standing in-between his parents, pointing at his artwork on the wall. She was stunned. She had often thought about how she would address his parents, and how she would explain the only empty vase. Looking at the expression on the faces of the adults, she knew that she would not have to explain, for the little boy had already done it. One of the most powerful gifts of children is the ability to be unashamedly honest. Although the cracked vase was never specifically mentioned, the conversation had the uncomfortable thin veil of politeness that concealed the deeper thoughts which remained largely unspoken between the adults.

One afternoon a few days later, after all of the children had left for the day, the teacher once again let her mind and her eyes wander to the drawing of the cracked vase. She immediately noticed something wrong with the picture, and leaned over to get a closer look. Someone had colored in the bottom of the crack. It was very subtle. In fact, it had hardly changed at all, but she had stared at the picture so often that she could tell even the slightest change. Surely, someone had snuck into the room and colored the bottom of the crack.

The teacher hoped that the little boy would not notice the act of vandalism. She carefully raised the picture a little higher on the wall, in an effort to keep it out of reach from any further abuse. Then she made it a point in her routine schedule to check on the vase every single day. To her amazement, someone continued to color-in the crack. It was never very much, just a little alteration every couple of days, but she could see the difference. The crack was slowly being filled.

After several more days had passed, the teacher made a concerted effort to discover the person who was gradually altering this artwork. She had watched carefully in the morning and afternoons, but had been unable to catch the vandal at work. She decided to check on the room during the playground break, and was amazed to discover the same little boy as he walked quietly and diligently to his desk in the classroom. He carefully selected a handful of crayons, and then pulled the teacher's chair up against the wall beneath his drawing. Concentrating and gently biting on the tip of his tongue, he colored in the last of the fissure at the top of the vase. Then, he pulled out a green crayon and drew a long stem from the top of the vase, a stem that nearly reached the top of the paper. At the top of that long stem, he began to lovingly create soft orange and yellow petals. The boy completed his task without a word or a glance to either side. He was completely absorbed in his loving craft.

The little boy put the crayons back in his desk, put the chair back at the teacher's desk, and walked toward the door. "Thank you for letting me use your chair, I could not get there on my own," said the little boy. "How do you like my sunflower?"


Words of Wisdom

"I have learnt silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers."
- Kahlil Gibran

"The true aim of everyone who aspires to be a teacher should be, not to impart his own opinions, but to kindle minds."
- Frederick William Robertson

"An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child."
- Carl Jung


Author's Bio: 

John Mehrmann is author of The Trusted Advocate: Accelerate Success with Authenticity and Integrity, the fundamental guide to achieve extraordinary sales and sustain loyal customers. John Mehrmann is a freelance writer and President of Executive Blueprints Inc., an organization devoted to improving business practices and developing human capital. www.ExecutiveBlueprints.com provides resource materials for trainers, sample Case Studies, and educational articles. www.InstituteforAdvancedLeadership.com provides self-paced tutorials for personal development and tools for trainers. Presentation materials, reference guides and exercises are available for continuous development.
John Mehrmann also contributed to 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life, Volume 3