Monday, May 23, 2016

To the Teacher Who's Wondering if You're Making a Difference

I recently came across this letter I wrote last year for my first grade teacher's retirement celebration. I decided to post it for two reasons.

1) If you are a worn-out, stretched-too-thin teacher wondering if you are making a difference in this overwhelming, underpaid profession you have chosen, the answer is YES. You may not hear about it for nearly 30 years, if at all, but you never know the life-changing impact you might have on someone just by doing your job.
2) Think about someone who has made a difference in your life - a teacher, a mentor, a friend. Have you ever taken the time to tell them the difference they have made? You don't have to write a novel. Look them up, write an email, send a Facebook message. Take the time you normally spend on Zulilly and let them know. It will mean the world to them, I guarantee. 

I'm in the second row with the pigtails. Not sure what I'm doing with my face, but I suspect I'm feeling quite smug about having the ruffliest collar in the class. 

Occasionally throughout life, the question comes up: who was your favorite teacher?

Hands-down, without hesitation, since I was 6 years old, my answer has always been Mrs. Gordey.

I was in Mrs. Gordey’s first grade class in 1990. Funnily enough, I don’t remember the particulars of learning math or science that year. I barely remember reading groups or spelling tests, but what I do remember has stayed with me for over 20 years.

I remember her laugh. I remember the way she would throw back her head with laughter when one of her students innocently and unwittingly said something funny. We must have all been hysterical too, because her classroom was always filled with joy. Or maybe that was just her way of showing how she took delight in each and every student.

I remember the fun. When I was in first grade, I couldn’t wait to go to school each day. I was so excited to see who might get “cornfused” about something and be allowed to sit with the coveted box of Cornflakes on their desk for the morning. I remember “Crazy Hat Day.” I remember accidentally/on purpose saying the banned word “ain’t”, the punishment for which was to pet a stuffed yellow lion on the teacher's desk. I remember all the stories about Mr.Gordey; apparently, he was so skinny that he had to wear skis in the shower so he wouldn’t wash down the drain. (I thought she was kidding, but I was never quite sure.) I can still sing all the words to the silly songs she taught us. I remember earning stickers, wearing buttons and especially, I remember the day that Mrs. Gordey slid down the slide.

I remember the life lessons. She showed us through words and actions that each student was special and important in their own unique way. She told us to “Do right, even if the stars fall.” She demonstrated the unconditional love of Christ every day.

When I was in first grade, Ms. Gordey asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I told her that I wanted to be a writer, a “poetess” to be exact. She encouraged my pursuit. When the assignment was to write a story, she let me write a poem instead. She even allowed me to sign my name “Poetess Anna” on several occasions. The goal of my 6-year-old life was to write poems that made her giggle.

But I did not become a poetess. I became a teacher.

When I was in college I chose elementary education as my major because 1) I was not sure I could make a living as a poetess and 2) when thinking about the people who had most influenced my life up to that point, I could not deny the impact of Mrs.Gordey.

Mrs. Gordey ignited the spark that lit my lifelong passion for learning. She saw my potential and I strove to make her proud. A laugh and a hug from Mrs. Gordey was better than any gold star. The confidence that was instilled in me in the first grade has lasted my whole life.

I can only hope to have the honor to take what Mrs. Gordey gave me and pass it on to another. I became a teacher because of Mrs. Gordey.

I am currently on a break from my teaching position as a stay-at-home mom while I raise my three children, but even as a mother I endeavor to impart the lessons I learned in my first grade classroom 25 years ago. I try to laugh with them, to have fun with them and most importantly, to show them how to love God and love others.

As a teacher I learned something that Mrs. Gordey has known for decades. I learned that you cannot teach a child anything until that child knows you truly care. You cannot instruct a child’s head until you capture his heart.

Mrs. Gordey has captured the hearts of hundreds of children. Those children are forever inspired and impacted just by knowing her. Mrs. Gordey has made the world a better place, one tiny heart at a time.

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