Jim Daly: Teacher Appreciation Day -- Coronavirus spotlights inestimable value of teachers

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We shouldn’t wait for Teacher Appreciation Day and Teacher Appreciation Week to celebrate the women and men who are changing the world by shaping the lives of America’s students – but here we are, and it would be impossible to laud them too highly.

Loss has a way of magnifying what really matters, and the shuttering of schools and canceling of classes due to the coronavirus pandemic has caused many of us to realize once again how much we appreciate our kids’ teachers.

A good teacher doesn’t just educate or edify, they open the world and encourage children to wonder what’s out there for them – and discover how they can do their part to contribute to the greater good.

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My first teacher in kindergarten was the kind Mrs. Smith. I arrived reluctantly and with some resentment on that first day of school. I enjoyed my freedom and didn’t want to be cooped up in a classroom all day. But by the time the last bell rang, I was hooked. Mrs. Smith helped to lay a foundation in my heart to love school and learning.

I’ll never forget Mr. Fried in the 6th grade. Nobody messed with him. He was a man’s man, a deputy reserve sheriff, a black belt karate instructor and a no-nonsense dude. I excitedly joined his karate class. He was Mr. Rules, no excuses put-your-sorries-in-a -sack kind of guy.

One particular memory of him stands out above the rest.

As it was, Mr. Fried was friends with Chuck Norris, who also taught karate at the time. Yes, the Chuck Norris. One day, our classes met in competition. Mr. Fried’s brown belt student beat Chuck Norris’ black belt protégé!

My 9th grade history teach was Mr. Hawkings, who later became mayor of my hometown. I thought he was cool. There’s an old saying that the best stories are full of lies that tell the truth, but Mr. H's stories were not only the best – they were all true. He knew how to tell a story and make history come alive.

In 10th grade there was Mr. Fields. He was a hippie and challenged everything. As a teenager, I was drawn to his independent streak and admired him for it, even though I didn’t agree with him on many issues.

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But my most influential teacher was Mr. Paul Moro. He was my high school football coach and a man amongst men.

His motto was simple: Work hard. Play hard. As tough as he was, he was compassionate, kind and connected with all the kids. He made you feel like the most important person in the world.

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Coach Moro was more than a great teacher and football coach to me. He changed the trajectory of my life by paying for me to go to a Fellowship of Christian Athletes Camp at Point Loma University one summer. I became a Christian at that event. Up until that point, every man in my life had failed me – chief among them, my father and stepfather.

From Paul Moro I learned about character and the epitome of character, Jesus Christ.

Even though children aren’t in physical classrooms these days, I’d like to encourage you to reach out to their teachers and express appreciation. They have a tough job.

You might also want to reach back through the years and remember a teacher or two who made a big difference in your life. If they’re still living and you can track them down, do it. You can never overestimate the power of gratitude and appreciation.

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When Coach Moro passed away last year, I had the privilege of eulogizing him at his memorial service. It was held on the football field, and the stands were full of former students and players – all of whom came out to pay their respects and pay tribute to a man who helped shaped their lives.

Our teachers hold the key to tomorrow for many kids – let’s lift them up and let them know how much they mean to us.

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