I have wanted to be a teacher since the 4th grade. Even when I wasn’t sure what content area I wanted to teach, I knew that I wanted to work with kids and affect lives. You see, I’ve always loved school—ever since the day I set foot in Mrs. Keethler’s kindergarten class at Lincoln Elementary. It’s the combination of my love of school and respect for teachers that led me to become a teacher myself. In reflecting last week on teaching during Teacher Appreciation Week, I’d like to recognize some teachers who have influenced me. Some of these are teachers who had me in class, others are teachers I work with or those who had my children. All of these teachers have one thing in common: They have positively impacted my teaching.
Mrs. Cruit was my 4th grade teacher. I adored her, and even today, she holds a special place in my heart. She trusted me to do things for her like run errands or help other kids. I remember that we had a bit of a challenging class, but in my mind, she was always professional, patient, and kind. Throughout the year, she encouraged me academically. Her encouragement made me work harder not only for myself, but also for her. I wanted to make Mrs. Cruit proud.
She knew that I wanted to teach, and she gave me extra copies of worksheets so that I could “play school” at home. I loved coming home with a stack of papers so much. The last day of fourth grade was tough—I was so sad to be leaving her. Good teachers are that way, making you wish you could stay back with them. Fast-forward to college, and I was able to go back and observe her teaching for a class I was taking. When I reflect on my teaching career and why I went into teaching, I give Mrs. Cruit the credit. I want to make kids feel the way she made me feel: smart, valued, and important.
I believe that Mrs. All was the most intelligent teacher I’ve ever had, college professors included. She was a wonderful female role model, teaching me that it was okay for girls to be smart and share their knowledge with others. For years, I’d been teased for my good grades, and Mrs. All helped me see academic success as an asset, not an embarrassment. This lesson has stayed with me all of these years.
I was lucky enough to have Mrs. All for 7th–9th grade English, Humanities, and independent study. I remember her going over and over prepositions with me in 7th grade because I just didn’t get the concept. I was frustrated, but she didn’t let me give up, and I finally mastered the concept.
In her English classes, she let us read a ton of wonderful books. This appealed to me as I have always been an avid reader. In independent study, when I chose to continue my reading, she gave me books that were important and meaningful—books that I still remember today. (I’m thinking Death Be Not Proud, The Chosen, and To Kill a Mockingbird, to name a few.) She also encouraged us girls to speak our minds. In 9th grade, I remember having a series of mini-debates in class. There were only two girls with a majority of boys in our class. The boys always spoke up, and we girls held our tongues. She tried to draw us out, and I knew she valued our opinions, but we were shy. Being high school girls, we were probably worried about embarrassing ourselves in front of the boys. But this was the first time in my life when, outside of my own home, I understood that my thoughts mattered. And thankfully, as I got older, I learned to speak my mind. I attribute my love of learning and my ability to say what I think to Mrs. All.
Barb Bayer was my cooperating teacher when I was a student teacher learning to teach high school English. I walked into Andover High School to meet her, and my first reaction was fear. She was short, grey-haired, stocky, and a little bit threatening. Her steel-grey hair was piled on top of her head in two braids, and to me, she seemed very old-school. Barb shared stories with me about the old days when she had to use the paddle on a student or two. I remember thinking to myself that if I’d been in her class, I would have done anything to avoid that kind of trouble.
Luckily, Barb and I clicked, even though I was certain she’d hate me. Here she was, a smart, fearless veteran teacher whom students both feared and adored, and I was a young, uncertain, naive little thing with no experience. Still, we connected instantly. I respected her and enjoyed watching her teach. Barb was very intelligent, and she always made her class engaging. In turn, she legitimately liked me and thought I was doing a good job. Sometimes she was brutally honest, which took some getting used to. For instance, when my advisor from college came down to observe me, her first sentence to him went something like this: “That was the worst I’ve seen you teach.” My heart sank. I knew for sure I’d be flunking out of teaching and living in my parents’ basement. The gist of her comment, though, ended up being that she’d seen me perform so much better many times before.
Soon after I student taught in Andover, Barb and I became colleagues. I was hired to teach in the same school where I had also been a learner. Barb became more of a mentor to me. She was just down the hall, and I could stop by anytime and ask advice. Barb taught me technique—tangible ways to make literature come to life. She also taught me a valuable lesson about judging a book by its cover. She and I were about as different as you could be, but despite our differences, we had a wonderful working relationship. I learned so much from her, and I am grateful to have been assigned to her classroom.
I would consider Patty Schmitz both a teacher and friend. She had both of my kids for 2nd grade, and there are not enough nice things to say about her. She is the kind of teacher my kids will never forget, just like Mrs. Cruit has been for me. Even now, when we talk about Mrs. Schmitz, my kids light up. They understand that she is a one-of-a kind educator who truly loves what she does.
Patty had my son Joel first. He was a somewhat challenging kid back then. It was his first year at the school, and he was trying to make friends. Being naturally funny, Joel had “class clown” tendencies. I was so worried that he would drive a teacher crazy, but Patty seemed to appreciate his humor (and help him reign it in as needed).
One day, she sent me an email at school. Attached was a picture Joel had drawn on an inside recess day. It was a male bodybuilder with bulky muscles and a small, thong-like bathing suit. The picture read, “The laddies love me.” Yes, you read that right. Laddies, not ladies. I was nervous. Was he in trouble? Did she think we were a dysfunctional family? Nope. Patty thought this was funny. She wanted to share this funny story with me. She took her own time to scan the picture and send me an email. I loved her so much for understanding—and even enjoying—his humor.
Patty had my daughter Ally in class, too. Ally loved Patty as much as Joel did, but Ally was an easier student. No drama. No emails at work. Just the usual kindness and affection she bestowed on all of her students. Years later, when Ally was in 7th grade, she was hospitalized. Patty visited the hospital, checked in on our family multiple times, and brought Ally many batches of her homemade blueberry muffins. To me, Patty exemplifies compassion and caring. She finds the best in each of her students, and she builds long-term relationships with parents and students. I want to do the same.
Finally, I want to write about my own colleague and friend, Liz Long. Before I begin, let me say that I work with an incredible staff. I learn from each and every one of my colleagues every day. But Liz—she just has the magic touch.
Liz Long teaches first grade, and she is amazing. Not only is she a kind and supportive co-worker, the kind of person I can come to for advice, she is also extraordinary at managing student behavior. I learn something every time I watch her work, even if it’s just a few minutes at a time.
Liz has mastered Jim Fay’s Love and Logic, and when you teach 1st graders, these techniques are a godsend. She is able to handle student mistakes with grace and calm—kneeling next to a student, quietly talking through a problem, and allowing a student to correct a mistake without humiliation. She also speaks quietly and compliments good behavior. Liz makes students want to do better so they will make her proud.
In addition, Liz is an excellent collaborator. She and I worked together this year on a 1st grade research project, and she is always willing to work with her colleagues in this way. She is encouraging to other teachers, and she is patient with parents. Every time I see Liz and her class walking by in the hallway, I think to myself “Now that is a class I’d like to join.” I am so grateful to get to work with and observe Liz. Her subtle strategies (that look so easy for her) are well-practiced techniques she’s worked on for years. I hope that with time, these practices will become a natural part of my tool box as well.
I’d like to thank these wonderful women, and numerous other teachers, who have shaped me, stretched me, and made me into who I am today. I’ve been fortunate to have had so many teachers and teaching friends I have admired. The five above are the first that came to my mind, but I could write about this topic all day. For not just one week out of the year, but all year long, I’d encourage all of you to reflect upon a teacher who has inspired you—a champion educator, so to speak. Send a quiet thank you into the universe, or even better, send this teacher a card or an email. Share how he or she impacted you. I can tell you from experience that your kind words matter. It is a gift to know that my life’s work has made a difference in my students’ lives.
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