Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Teachers Make All the Difference

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week and even though I am a teacher (thanks, self!) or maybe because I am a teacher, I want to take some time to recognize some of the teachers who had profound effects on my life. Of course my first teachers were my parents. My mother taught me so many lessons, I wouldn't even dream of beginning to enumerate them. In fact, given that Mother's Day is this Saturday, I will reserve a post just for her. Ditto for Father's Day, also on the horizon. (geez, is this year 2011 speeding by for everyone else?!)

When I was a young adolescent, a teenager, and then a young woman, if you were looking for me at family gatherings, your best bet would be to find the smallest children and I would be among them. I grasped every chance I had to hold babies. Truthfully, that included asking complete strangers in the grocery store if I could hold their babies. And people were either more trusting then, or I just had an air about me, because 9 times out of 10, they would let me. But it was at one of these family reunions that my future was cast. My Great Great Aunt Genevieve, a wonderfully generous and beautiful woman who had taught kindergarten for over 30 years in the town where my father grew up, told my mother and grandmother, as they all watched me entertain the extended family youngsters, that I was going to make a great teacher one day. I don't know about the great part, but it shows the power of language, praise, and recognition, that 30 years later I am a teacher and I remember that she said that about me.

When I was in the third grade, Mrs. Feutz was my teacher. I always thought she looked like an angel: blond wispy hair, a gentle touch, and a voice that lulled you with comfort. I had a hard time in third grade learning how to tell time on an analog clock. I'm not sure digital clocks even existed at the time so it was probably pretty important that I learn this skill. And because it is usually pretty darn easy for me to learn new concepts, the fact that I was struggling with this caused me to have a break-down right in my third grade classroom. Mrs. Feutz sent me to the hall and of course I was sure this was the end of my school career. I must have thought she was going to reprimand my behavior--that's what teachers do, right? (After all, I did skip the story of my kindergarten teacher--when asked what I wanted to be in kindergarten, I said, "A teacher, so I can be the one to yell.") But I wasn't scared. Somehow I knew even being in trouble by Mrs. Feutz wasn't going to be a bad thing. And of course, Mrs. Feutz was that kind of teacher who understood that sometimes kids get frustrated and can't control their reactions. I don't remember what she said to me that day. I do know that she taught me how to read that darn clock!

I would love to share all of the stories of teachers who meant so much to me, but nobody would want to read for that long. And if they did want to, I'd make it into a book and maybe make some real cash off it. But let me give you some highlights:
Mrs. Newberry who told me after I was grown that she had expected me to be a journalist because of my writing abilities. I still have the poetry anthology I made in her 6th grade classroom.
Miss Frost, the first year creative writing teacher who helped me and my best friend Laura navigate the rough waters of best-friendship in 8th grade.
Mr. Adams, my high school English teacher. I can still recall verbatim several comments he left on some of my writings, though the papers are long gone.
Mrs. Lange, my high school Spanish teacher. I didn't stick with Spanish long after college, but she's the reason I pursued a minor in the subject.

And teachers need teachers too. So lastly, I'd like to tell you about Norma. The first teacher I ever called by a first name, even though she's a doctor (I'd wear that title right out if I had it!) Norma was my mentor and teacher during graduate school when I was working on my Masters degree in Middle Level Education. If I am a great teacher today, I owe much of it to her. I am a kinder, more patient, more humane teacher because of her. I had a class with her during the time when those WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelets were so popular, and as a class we decided that it would be much more appropriate to have WWND bracelets. We measured everything about being a good teacher on the What Would Norma Do scale. Norma had so much faith in me that I am now assisting her and teaching in the same program she taught to me so well.

So on this Teacher Appreciation Week, thank you to all you teachers who open your hearts and share your gifts to create successful, responsible, and happy adults. May you one day find the riches you so deserve right now.

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