Thank A Teacher

Three Lifetime Lessons From Unforgettable Elementary Teachers

Each year in May, students celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week by honoring teachers with thoughtful cards and other tokens of appreciation. The proliferation of apple-themed stationery sets and granola bars wrapped with a sticker proclaiming, “We’re Nuts About You! Happy Teacher Appreciation Day!” are cute, but any teacher will tell you the greatest gift is for you to carry forward and share the lessons they taught. While the years since elementary school grow more distant, the teachers who made my school years some of the best of my life have not. Here are three of the lessons — and the teachers — that made me who I am.

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / beichh4046

A good teacher can make all the difference © Can Stock Photo Inc. / beichh4046

Discipline and Disappointment

When twenty-two squirrelly six-year-old’s moved from kindergarten to first grade, Mrs. Williamson had no idea what she was in for.

Neither did we.

Not long into our year together, after she’d taught us to practice writing between the fat, green lines on green paper, she took a temporary leave of absence. With her patient, southern accent and her welcoming smile gone from our room for a few months, we balanced on the precipice of our first serious lesson in education. Her substitute, Mr. Collier, a tall man with dark, curly hair and a baritone voice, towered over our three-foot bodies and didn’t leave that pretty, musky Estee Lauder scent in his wake. For reasons unknown, this gave us permission to misbehave in the only way first graders can. The exact nature of our misbehavior is fuzzy, but the ramification of our choices rings clear. Mr. Collier, fed up with our pint-sized shenanigans, lined us up at the door, single-file, marched us into the hallway and called the principal. We might have messed with Mr. Collier, but we would not be doing the same to the principal, Mr. Eberwine, who barreled down the main office stairway brandishing a scarred wooden paddle the length of some of our short legs. A brotherly imitation of Jackie Gleason in a suit coat, he traipsed the hallway, slapping that paddle against his hand with every calculated step. His dark eyes drilled into our little souls, daring us to look away, daring us to cry. Daring us to give him a reason to use that piece of lumber.

At our age, we didn’t think far enough ahead to know Mrs. Williamson would return, but she did. We also didn’t think she’d find out about our misbehavior, but she did. Her disappointment was palpable. She’d left thinking Mr. Collier was inheriting a classroom of darlings when, in fact, we were pickles. Knowing firsthand the conversations that take place in the teacher’s lounge today, I can only imagine their interaction when she returned. Corporal punishment disappeared before I graduated high school, but the reverberation of that paddle smacking Mr. Eberwine’s palm and the anguish our behavior caused never has.

Honesty

In fifth grade, all I wanted was to be cool. I wanted to be picked first for the recess dodge ball team, even though the boys threw those flimsy rubber balls hard enough to leave welts. I wanted long, beautiful hair like Teri Douglas, not the frizzy, home perm pouf I had to let grow out. I wanted to spend hours on the phone giggling and being teased by my girlfriends about boys who had a crush on me rather than being known as the nerd who did all her homework. There weren’t many opportunities for girls like me, more books and bad perms than Jordache and Gloria Vanderbilt jeans.

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