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By Angela Maiers

Reflecting on Thankfulness: A Teacher’s Story

So often we are faced with unusual circumstances in life and we have to dig deep down and ask ourselves: when overcome with adversity, how do I determine what matters to me? Who in my life continues to support me when I continue to struggle? Ultimately, what is my heartbreak and how do I mend it?

Mark Tobin, a committed 17-year elementary educator in Toronto, Ontario, exemplifies strength and resilience in a time of trepidation.

mark tobin teacher

Mark recently reached out to share his story of triumph and tribulations. He currently struggles with a hereditary neurological disease called spinocerebellar ataxia (SCA), in which his cerebellum is deteriorating, thus reducing his control of both gross and fine motor functions including speech, walking, writing and eventually even swallowing. He knew the disease all too well, witnessing the symptoms through his grandmother and mother, who both suffered from SCA.

Mark, a passionate teacher, and storyteller expressed how his profession motivates him to pursue speech therapy and practice pre-written scripts for the following day’s lessons/learning activities. He proclaims, “My passion for teaching has not wavered over the course of my career; my determination grows because I want to make every minute count as an educator before I leave the school environment. When I finally do need to leave, I still want to remain in the education field to share my knowledge and vision with others. It won’t be the same as teaching a class, but hopefully, it still feeds my passion.”

Throughout the daily challenges, Mark emphasizes, “I have always learned that you share and trust those who matter to you. My students and parents are my ‘school family’ and they matter to me.”

He continues to tell his story about his lifelong hereditary battle with SCA, not to look for sympathy, but rather to build awareness and hope. After sharing his personal narrative called, Lost Smiles, by far the most challenging story of his life, his community radiated support and gratitude. He selflessly noted, “I really hope the students realize that we all have a story to share that will connect and inspire others.”

Mark’s words capture humanity at its best: “I shake my head and recognize that the changes in my health are actually strengthening my passion to continue doing the things I love.  I may do things differently but my passion remains intact.  I am not going to let this disease take away my smile. I am going to continue to do the things that I love about teaching, drawing, and storytelling. As it becomes more difficult for me to do these things, I will teach myself new ways to teach, draw and tell stories with a great big smile on my face. My family, friends, and students are always there when I need them. I consider myself a very lucky person to be able to still do the things I have a passion for. When I come to school, I always have a smile on my face because I know that we are all here to support each other. In life we all face challenges and no one should ever lose their smile.”

Thank you, Mark for making us smile and for sharing not only your heartbreak but your passion for education that continues to ignite your community. You Matter and the world needs your contribution!