Thank A Teacher

I pretty much would have sold my soul that year for popularity. Lucky for me, T.B. came along and offered me the chance to reinvent myself as something of a bad girl. T.B. loved stickers, and Rachel had a new book of stickers she left in her desk each night. If I could steal the stickers for T.B., she promised I’d finally be cool. I didn’t blink twice. After Mr. Hubbard dismissed us for the bus, I lingered around the classroom and pretended to leave by going upstairs. When the coast was clear, I scrambled back down and rummaged around the inside of Rachel’s desk. To my shock, I realized two things: Mr. Hubbard’s voice nearing the door and the stickers snapped tightly inside of her three-ring binder. If I’d have only kept my nose in Nancy Drew books instead of the Little House on the Prairie series, I’d have realized it was time to get out.

Alas, elbow-deep in someone else’s desk, I formulated some pathetic, elaborate lie when he began asking questions. Long story short, I didn’t get the stickers, I didn’t rat out T.B. for setting me up (until now), and Mr. Hubbard horrified me not by brushing this under the rug, but by inviting my parents, Rachel and Rachel’s parents to school. It was one thing to be ashamed of your actions with a teacher. Being required to describe your actions to your parents, your almost-victim and her parents pretty much guaranteed I’d never be cool again—and that I had no future as a thief. Mr. Hubbard didn’t stop there. After the apologies and tears, he made me sit down and write letters to the people I’d offended. Even then, I loved writing and filled at least one diary a year, so the added torture of having to put my shortcomings into words was a punishment that still haunts me. Mr. Hubbard didn’t yell and he didn’t threaten—but believe me, I learned my lesson.

Love

Sometime between her twenty-fifth and thirty-fifth year of teaching, Mrs. Stull turned second grade into the year that defines me today as a person and as a teacher. Not only did I leave her class being able to count to one thousand (even if it took me two weeks longer than anyone else), I learned that caring for others makes a difference that you may never know. When my baby brother arrived that September, I struggled with my role as responsible big sister. I felt forgotten and unloved in comparison to this new, crying, bottle-sucking and diaper-clad kid. I was yesterday’s news, being all of seven years old. Mrs. Stull began writing note cards to me to tell me how special it was that I had the chance to be a good big sister, a good helper to my mother, and, most ironically, a good teacher to my brother and younger sister. Those notes were more powerful than any scratch and sniff sticker, as evidenced by the fact that I still have them. I don’t remember a single moment of knowing her and not seeing a smile on her face.

Her notes changed my attitude of viewing my brother as competition. Instead of being upset, I babysat. In time, he became my guinea pig on summer afternoons when we played school, then one of my best friends when I returned from college and we started working together at summer camp. Time does make us wiser, to some degree, but the value of Mrs. Stull’s notes was she sped up the process to make me realize love doesn’t mean much until you share it without expecting something in return.

Each teacher leaves us with at least one lesson that, when applied, has the power to transform lives. What teachers and lessons linger for you? If you can, the best way to show appreciation for those teachers is to share your memories and let them know their work has not been forgotten.

Beth Morrow is a teacher, author and program director for Camp Hamwi, a residential camp for teens with diabetes. She can be reached at beth@bethmorrow.com

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