A few weeks ago, when talks of a teacher walkout in Oklahoma were just a rumor, a friend on Facebook asked his followers to share the name and memory of a teacher who’d made a difference. (The post ended up going viral.) Like many of us, there’s no way I could pick just one teacher.
My second grade teacher, Mrs. Morrison. When I got braces with glow in the dark bands, she let me lead the class to the teachers lounge so I could climb up on a desk, smile at the fluorescent light in the ceiling, and see them glow. (They were a letdown.) In a fun twist of fate, I recently got to award her a certificate in honor of her fiftieth year since graduating college this past Homecoming. I asked if she remembered me. She said, “Oh yes. You were a fun one.” I hoped that was a good thing.
My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Purkey, who had to reteach us third grade math, but let us watch The Goonies in class one day and was consequently horrified. (She did not remember the language when she’d last watched it in the ’80s.) I still know how to count back change because of her.
My fifth grade teachers, Mrs. Underwood and Mrs. Pate. I used to go back and visit them every year for a while because they were just simply the best.
My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Bridges. The amount of reading we did in her class was amazing. She gently harassed me about taking too long to read The Lord of the Rings, but she still let me try. (We were supposed to read a book a week, I think, and of, course, it took me two, or three, to read just one of those.) She had an amazing audiobook collection to facilitate reading. Of course, anyone who knew my mom knew she was addicted to audiobooks. Mrs. Bridges gladly let us borrow from her classroom library.
My seventh and eighth grade algebra teacher, Mrs. Hamm. She let me and my friends have a second home in her classroom. I got to be a teacher’s aide for her one semester and felt like I was really responsible, but really I spent most of the time reading Harry Potter fanfiction. She still tutored me long after I left her class. She was even responsible for helping me find Lois Lane and cultivating my pomeranian addiction!
My sophomore English teacher, Mrs. Meigs. I think I probably drove her a little crazy with my pedantry and sometimes antagonistic questions. By the time I had her, I was ready to prove everyone wrong. However, she never ceased to find new ways to keep me challenged and encourage me. I’ll never forget a comment of hers stating, “You should be a journalist!” on some assignment we had. I kept it on my wall for years.
My junior physics and calculus teachers, Mr. Brown and Mrs. McMillen. OSSM was the most challenging year of high school and easily the thing that prepared me the most for college, even though I didn’t end up doing anything math or science related. I was not good at it. At all. The first week of class when they gave out their cellphone numbers in case we needed help with homework, I thought they were crazy. And then I called. Mr. Brown and Mrs. McMillen never made me feel bad, they never stopped encouraging me, or helping me. Mr. Brown tutored me long after I left his classroom (see a pattern?) and I’ve enjoyed keeping up with both of them through the years.
My high school computer teacher, Mrs. McClain, got to school early just to let my friends and I in to her classroom so we could mess around with photoshop or other stuff on the computers. She gave us room to learn and play around and explore. Crazily enough, almost 10 years later, with no training in college, I still use all of my knowledge I learned from her in my current job!
Last, but certainly not least, my music and theatre teachers: Miss Holly, Mrs. Green, and Mr. Peters. Like so many others, Choir and drama were my havens in junior high and high school. I would have lived in the PAC if I could have. Art gave me and my friends the freedom to be silly and awkward and goofy all while still learning to be who we were and who we wanted to be without judgment.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my best friend, Thomas, who is striking at the Capitol this week. No, I didn’t have him as a “teacher” but he certainly likes to school us all.
And because I work for a university, faculty are on my mind as well, since higher ed in Oklahoma has also seen incredibly steep cuts with no means of replacing funds. Dr. Mintler, Amy, and Renée were all instrumental in my early college experience. (I still pester them a lot today.) I owe a lot to the entire communication department at NSU, including my sister, who teaches me informally every day. And my time in the van with Kris and the speech and debate team was a formative part of my college experience I’ll never forget.
When choosing a memory to share, it inherently asks you to leave others out, and I know there are people I will miss or forget. (As long a post as this already is, I am trying to keep it brief.) But perhaps the most vibrant picture of what teachers have done in my life was when my own mother died. At the time, she was a teacher herself. She had recently re-entered the classroom, teaching high school English, and loved it, though she dealt with many of the issues you’ll hear other Oklahoma teachers discuss. At her memorial service, when we greeted everyone, I remember being shocked at who all took time out of their days to come. Her fellow teachers, some of whom I didn’t know, but many of whom were my former teachers. Miss Holly made a point to find me and hug me before the service. Mr. Peters gave me a big bearhug in the line. Mrs. McMillen, who know longer works in town, drove all the way in just for my mom’s memorial. Professors my sister taught with and my mom knew.
Teaching isn’t just a job; it’s a calling that goes beyond a day or a year. Teachers impact students for their entire lives. Our teachers deserve to be paid what they’re worth and our students deserve the peace of mind to know that their future in the classroom is secure.