For me school didn’t come easy. I started as a four year old in first grade. My parents were going through a divorce and my mom told the school I was five years old and started me early. I was big for four, as big or bigger than most five year olds, but obviously a year of growing makes a big difference. I was too young to remember most of that year, but what I do remember is my first grade teacher requiring me to stay in during recess and practice my ABC’s. This was tough. I wanted to be outside, what little four year old boy wants to be practicing penmanship? But it was good for me and I quickly caught up to the rest of the class.
Fast forward to 6th grade. Mr. Terrell was a favorite teacher at Liberty Christian school in Denton, Texas. He taught well, but mostly he made us feel like he really cared about each one of us. After lunch he would read to us short stories from Encyclopedia Brown or tell us riddles that we had to figure out by asking yes or no questions. Our classroom was in a small portable at the back of the school. The room was cramped and I remember it often being stuffy, but there was a general sense of fun and safety because Mr. Terrell worked hard to let us know that he cared by asking us personal questions about our lives and then following up with us later. He was one of the first adults that made me feel like he was genuinely interested in what was going on in my life other than my parents.
“Jump Back and Kiss Yo’ Self!”
Between 6th and 12th grade I had few teachers that really stood out. I left Liberty Christian and went to public school and then back to Liberty for my senior year. It was my geometry teacher Mrs. Gray that showed me the possibility of a great teacher. Mrs. Gray taught geometry. I am a creative type and math and logic don’t come easy for me. When I hear the words “Integer” or “Quadratic Equation” I want to run. But Mrs. Gray made me feel comfortable around theorems and shapes. When class was over I wanted to meet Pythagorus and fist bump Euclid instead of punching them in the face. Mrs. Gray taught me more than math, she taught me patience and that some things take more time to learn, but they are still worth learning. And when you learn something that is challenging it is much more rewarding than excelling at the things that come easy.
What I also appreciated about Mrs. Gray was that although she was tough, gave us tons of homework and required us to be meticulous with our papers, and keep them all year long in a binder, she also was super fun. During Spirit Week she always dressed up and on 70’s day she wore bell bottoms, a leather vest with fringe and she pulled back her dishwater blond tresses with a hippie bandana. As she walked into the classroom and she strutted and stayed in character the entire class time. When she handed back our tests she said, “Eddie, you got an A on your homework, jump back and kiss yo self!” When she uttered that phrase I couldn’t help but think that Mrs. Gray was the coolest teacher ever. Like Mr. Terrell she invested not only in our education, but in our lives and our well being. She created an environment where learning was fun and she affirmed us and taught us that there is benefit and many reward that come from hard work.
Throughout life we humans all need great teachers and mentors. The impact they can have lasts a lifetime. I’m thankful for Mr. Terrell and Mrs. Gray for showing me that teaching is more than learning about a subject, teaching students empowers them to believe in themselves.