I chose Anne Sullivan as a Grace & Grit woman because her life was not easy. In fact, it was hard – but, despite that, she still put herself on a life path that would continue to be challenging.
Above all else, Anne was the perfect teacher.
I was a special education teacher for seven years. Now, by no means was I the perfect teacher, but I did choose to go into a specific teaching field that continually proved to be challenging. The flip side to challenging was that I worked with a culture of children who were marginalized by schools and, at times, society – very much like Helen Keller, Anne’s student – and I knew I could help them.
When I started teaching my special education students, they did not get to go to the library or PE. I worked very hard at getting people to understand they deserved the same opportunities as every other student in the school. Anne believed this to be true of her student, too. Helen’s life before Anne was confusing and frustrating. She didn’t get to do many things because she did not understand the world around her. Anne took on every battle Helen faced and did not relent. She knew if she stayed true to her student, she would make her student’s life better. Through her devotion and perseverance, Anne taught Helen life skills, sign language, communication skills and even how to TALK.
Anne showed devotion to many things: teaching, thinking big, problem-solving, her student and serving those who have challenges. But here is the other side of devotion – as devoted as Anne was to Helen, she also did something for herself. She fell in love and got married. She did not lose herself in her work. That is an important thing to remember. You can be devoted to something and not have to sacrifice your whole self to it. You can keep part of your spirit for yourself and still serve.
It is important for our girls to know that devotion can change the trajectory of something. It can change one’s own life, the life of another, your family, a friend, or even the world. It opens people up to having grace and grit. Devotion requires the grit of one to show another a way of grace.
The other important lesson Anne teaches is that sometimes, no matter how hard we work, our work may go unnoticed. We hear a lot about Helen Keller but very little about her teacher, Anne. It is important that our girls also understand not everyone gets the limelight. Sometimes your work, though impactful, will not always get huge recognition. While Anne taught Helen a great deal of things, it was Helen who people wanted to see, communicate with and write about. Anne’s work was the foundation on which Helen stood; her teacher remained in the background. The background work is just as important as the work that is seen. The songwriter we don’t see is just as important as the singer we do see. In fact, without the songwriter, there would be no songs!
Anne was a strong woman who did silent work. She was humble but she was also proud of herself. While her devotion to one person may seem small, the changes she made in that person’s life were huge – and her contributions continue to inspire us today.