When the new school year began, I became nostalgic for years past: for the purchase of new supplies, the order of organizing binders, the shopping for fresh, new clothes, and the excitement of finding out which teacher we will have for the new year. Perhaps nothing brought as much of a thrill as the postcard we received at the start of August declaring, “Welcome to my class! I’m excited to be your teacher.”
Teachers have the power to shape who we are and to speak words over us that we will never forget. My sons have been blessed with caring, creative teachers over the years, and I have seen them challenged, encouraged, and affirmed by them time and time again. I experienced the same during my childhood too. As I reflect, three teachers stand out for the tremendous impact they had on me.
During my elementary years, my happy place was the school library, which was on the first floor of the building. I can remember descending the staircase from the main hallway to enter the library, and it smelled of collected books. Yes, libraries have a wonderfully distinct aroma. Mrs. Wells was a tall woman with a deep voice, and she was always there to welcome me. She recognized my love of reading, and she often suggested books to me. She would also challenge me with books that I normally wouldn’t have considered. In that shadowed room my love of story was cultivated and encouraged.
Teachers have the power to shape who we are and to speak words over us that we will never forget.
In sixth grade I had a teacher who was kind, vivacious, and playful. Mrs. DuBose brought an energy to our classroom that had been absent the prior school years. It was my last year in elementary school, and I was not expecting her. School suddenly became fun. She also had a gift for making you feel seen. For an insecure preteen, this was a profound gift. Each Friday Mrs. DuBose would conclude our lessons early so she could read to us from The Great Brain book series. It was my favorite time of the week, and I would sit and listen with rapt attention. Again, my love of story was cultivated.
In high school I encountered another teacher who shaped me in profound ways. Mrs. Cox taught sophomore and senior English, and she could have easily taught at the college level. She challenged her students and earned the reputation for being tough. However, for me, her class was stimulating. The love I had for language and story was nurtured and developed by her. She also shaped me as a writer with challenging assignments and affirmation of my ability. She was perhaps the first person to recognize that I was gifted as a writer. When she read my words, I felt her delight.
Today I write and teach, and in both occupations, I recognize the impact of these three women. They were deeply committed to the craft of teaching and to the encouragement of their students. Because of them, I found myself on a path paved with words and story and discovered this was the direction I was meant to travel. As I teach, I hope I bring the same attunement and attentiveness to my students, inspiring them to discover their own distinct path for the journey ahead.
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