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Column: Photos, coffee mugs and hymn lyrics comfort me in classroom

Column: Photos, coffee mugs and hymn lyrics comfort me in classroom

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I have objects in my classroom which continue to inspire me and ‘pump me up’ for the teaching day.

The historical portraits and paintings which hang in the room help me teach and get needed points across to the students. Pictures of family provide simple joy. This teacher’s life is so unique and interesting. It just leaves me speechless some days. I am having more fun with the subject and students than ever before.

I have pictures of my wife from her wedding portraits around my desk. I look at them each day and am thankful. She has done amazing things through the years so I can live a boy’s adventure tale as a teacher and coach. She is supportive and kind. We will be married 25 years this summer and every year is a blessing. I feel I get to learn about her over and over. It is a joy to live this life with her. I have the favorite picture of my two kids on a shelf near those pictures. The photo celebrates them and the sport I love.

A few years ago, a teacher asked if I would visit her classroom and talk to students. She did this activity with other teachers as well; trying to help her students think about life, and careers, and to share a little wisdom with young people. As part of the assignment, she had the students write down what they learned from the talk. They made a poster for me. I have this behind my desk so I can see it every day. A few things they wrote down: Attitude is everything; don’t only think of yourself; go see people who are doing the things you want to do and ask a lot of questions; and out of hard things — good things happen. The ‘thank you’ poster speaks to me about the mission of teaching, and it gives me hope.

Several National Board for Professional Teaching certificates hang on the wall near the poster. I have been fortunate to receive this certification a few times. Each certification has made me a better instructor.

The coffee cups I have purchased at museums or which students and friends have given me are lined up on a shelf as a memory thread of where I have been and the people I have met along this journey. It occurs to me I have had a lot of coffee over the years.

I have a plaque my college swim coach presented to me as a graduating senior. Coach made sure to type my nickname on the bottom of it. When he died last year, I brought it to the classroom to remind me of his faith in me. Now, it continues to encourage me to be the person I want to be. I have been grateful to be a teacher and coach for many years. I cannot display all of them, but I have pictures of the high school swim team around the room. I see their faces and savor the memories.

Hanging close to the ceiling is a poster of Lou Gehrig gifted to me by a colleague. There are moments where all of us are ‘the luckiest man on the face of the earth.’ The items in my classroom tell the story of blessings upon blessings.

Two quotes I read almost daily are near the computer monitor. One is the last paragraph from Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. The quote is a continual reminder for me about great words living on through time. The expressions of duty and reconciliation guide me. His words help me think about all my students and the larger life I want to live.

A dear friend gave me a prayer which I have posted next to Lincoln’s words. It reads, “Lord, let your Spirit flow freely here, driving out the darkness and filling this space with light. May the power of Christ bring hope and peace to the chaos students face.” I am thankful when students comment my classroom is a safe place for them. I want to be here in this space for as long as I can.

I have lyrics to an old hymn taped to the wall near my desk, “Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, let the earth hear his voice/Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord/Let the people rejoice/Oh come to the Father through Jesus the son/And give Him the glory great things he hath done.”

At Easter, we feel the gifts of eternal love and eternal life. We forgive ourselves, and we forgive others, because of the promises of God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy. We pray our hopes and fears knowing the story of Jesus’s birth and resurrection ends in victory.

We have much to be thankful for.

Brent Tomberlin is a social studies instructor at South Caldwell High School and Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute. He can be reached at

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