Two weeks ago I did something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time. It’s something I’ve thought about over the years. Something I NEEDED to do.
Thankfully I was added in this by the mother of a friend I grew up with. Some of you will recall that in March I went back to my home town and spoke to the writer’s group there. One of the officers of the group was said mother. She keyed into one of the things I mentioned in my talk, and not long ago, she sent me a note with the information I needed (unsolicited).
See, when I look back at my K-12 education (5 to 18 years old for those of you not familiar with the U.S. system), I can pick out a hand full of teachers who meant a lot to me. And out of that handful there are two who really stand out, and one that gets honorable mention.
Of the two standouts, one was my high school drama teacher. He treated me like an adult, and encouraged me in things I never thought I’d do. I’ve been lucky over the years to stay in contact with him, so he knows how important he’s been in my life.
But the other teacher I haven’t talked to since I left elementary school for junior high. (Another primer: elementary school here is grades K, 1-6 – basically 5 to 11 – junior high for me was grades 6 – 7, and high school grades 9 – 12.)
The person I’m talking about was my 5th grade teacher, Mrs. B. She may have been the youngest teacher at our school. And though the hormones hadn’t quite kicked in with us 10 year old, we all knew she was pretty hot. (It was amazing how many fathers who had never attended a parent-teacher meeting before always seemed to make it for ones with Mrs. B.) But what was important to me about Mrs. B. was that she was always, always encouraging.
The mother I mentioned above had a daughter a couple years older than me who had also had Mrs. B. This daughter apparently had the habit of doodling cartoons and other drawings in the margins of tests and homework. Instead of chastising her and telling her to stop it (like apparently some later teachers did), Mrs. B. complimented her on them, and even asked if she could keep some for her own collection. To this day, that girl remembers this.
My most vivid memory of Mrs. B. was that everyday after lunch she would sit us on the floor on these great carpets she had, get into her rocking chair, and read to us for a half hour. This was my favorite time of day. Hearing the stories meant so much to me. And on those few days when she couldn’t do this for us…well, those were not my favorite.
It was right about this time, in fifth grade, that I told myself, and several of my friends, that I was going to be an Author. And I know part of why I felt confident about that choice was because of Mrs. B.
All these years I’ve been wanting to tell her just how much she meant to me. To let her know that I thought of her often, and that she was one of the best teachers I’d ever had. Well, in that note from my friend’s mom was Mrs. B.’s phone number.
Because of travel, I wasn’t able to call for several weeks. In a way, I was thankful for that. I was a little nervous to call her. Would she remember me? How would she react? I think I kind of reverted to school boy.
Finally, I pulled out the number and called. No answer, just voicemail. But I wasn’t going to leave a message, so I hung up. I found excuses not to call for the rest of the day, my fear creeping up again, but then, just about 24 hours later, I redialed her number.
Now know that – as is my way when faced with similar situations – that I had played out in my head multiple ways of reintroducing myself. I was going through them again as I pressed the connect button.
But then, before the phone had even rung in my ear, someone on the other end picked up.
“Brett Battles?” a familiar, if a bit older, voice said. I could hear her smile in her voice.
It took me a second to realize that she had caller ID, and that all the intros I had practiced were unnecessary.
Of course she remembered me. I think she probably remembers most of her kids.
We talked for probably twenty minutes, me and my fifth grade teacher. It was an amazing conversation, and I got to tell her all the things that I so wanted to say. And you know what? She’s just as wonderful today as she was then.
She said she’d seen my picture in the local paper about my books, and that I hadn’t changed at all. I said I probably wasn’t shaving back then. She asked about my family, and was interested in hearing about my life. We talked about the other kids in my class. And she wanted me to call her by her first name, something I told her was just not going to happen. And finally we exchanged contact information with a promise not to loose touch, and hung up.
The purpose of calling her was because I wanted her to know the affect that she had on me, and no doubt most of her other students. I wanted her to know the truth, to get that feedback, even decades later. I’m pretty sure she felt really good at the end. And she should have. She was a fantastic teacher.
But what I didn’t expect was that I would feel so good. I rode a cloud from the moment I heard her voice until I fell asleep that night. I still rode it in the days after. It wasn’t that I felt good with myself for calling her, it was more I was reminded about how great it was that she and my other wonderful teachers had been part of my life. I am who I am today in large part because of these people. And the work they’ve done, and the goals they’ve achieved live through me, and their other students.
Thank you Mrs. B. and Mr. K. and all the others. Thank you more than I can ever express.
All right, Murderati peeps, time to name your favorite teacher and tells us why they mean so much to you. I expect all of you to respond to this one. We should have a boat load of comments.
Let’s share and celebrate these people who molded us and guided us and helped us on our way.
Also I wanted to mention that next Tuesday marks the release of the third Quinn book, SHADOW OF BETRAYAL, in paperback…AND the release of Rob’s latest, DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN! Two great paperbacks, perfect for the beach or the plane or wherever you may be!
Fantastic post, Brett – we should make this a semiannual thing, because it really can’t be said often enough.
So many great teachers for me, but I’d especially like to thank:
My drama/music teachers, Ms. Jones and Ms. Cichoki, who taught all day long and then worked a full extra UNPAID day most days putting on amazing musical productions that were my greatest happiness in those days, not to mention the best training I ever had for writing.
Jan Ebey, my seventh and eighth grade Social Studies teacher, who is not only a fantastic mind, but shattered the mold as an example of what women could and couldn’t be.
Lea Ward, my tenth grade English teacher, who unabashedly taught college-level classes and demanded college-level work at a – let’s be kind and say "laid-back" school. She scared me into writing well, and also I’ll never forget how crushed I was when she decided to quit teaching that year, before I could have her for more English classes. She went off to work in a fish packing plant in Oregon, and in her goodbye letter to the school paper she said that when she graduated from Berkeley, all full of plans and dreams, a little voice in the back of her head ("My mother’s", she explained wryly) said, "Get your teaching credential. Then you can always fall back on that."
Well, seeing her quit at the top of her teaching game and go off to start over made me realize even at 13 that maybe a fallback plan wasn’t such a great idea. Maybe it was better just to go for it. And that’s what I always did.
And most especially – my mother, a teacher of gifted and talented and gifted and talented herself, who was from the time we could talk always filling in all the gaps in our education, at home.
Thanks to ALL my teachers, and all you teachers out there. We can never pay you enough.
Brett, that was just awesome. I love teaching, just as it sounds like your teachers did, because of the connection with those students who make all the rest of it (mounds of grading, parents who ignore their kids, parents whose kids are not now and have never been at fault, administrators who spent 3 years in a classroom and haven’t been back in 30 but want to tell you how to teach, governmental agencies who couldn’t spell their own name with a tutor and three chances, etc.) all worth it. It’s the hardest job you’ll ever love.
That said, I remember Mr. Gryder and Mary W. White (college professor). Mrs. White always backed me up, and made me believe I could do anything if I just set my mind to it. I had a lot of teachers like that, but none so positive and such a force as Mrs. White.
I haven’t spoken to Mr. G since 5th grade (what is it about that time?) and I wish I could find him one day, and thank him. Nothing he did made me want to write or teach, nothing like that. But I was a really geeky, loser-ish kid in elementary school. I got picked on constantly (mostly for the stupid things I said and did…don’t get me wrong, even I would have picked on me now that I looked back at it). But he always treated me as someone important. He never stood for other kids putting people down, whether it was me or someone else. He always tried to make sure I was included in stuff, like at recess and what not. I’ve never forgotten that, and I hope someday I get the chance you had. Gryder was a seriously cool dude.
Isn’t it the best when you can tell someone how much they meant to your life? Think of how much it must mean to them, too. As a former teacher of sorts I can tell you that it really means a lot.
My second grade teacher, Mrs. Young, and my third grade teacher, Miss Mary (last name apparently unpronounceable and lost to time), encouraged me to read. I learned to read when I was four, so by the time I got to them I was deep into The Bobbsey Twins, Hardy Boys, and Nancy Drew. While they were teaching the other kids to read they let me go to the library and read to my heart’s content. I was always the only child there, but loved the solitude, the smell of the books, and even the light coming through the window. Miss Mary took me to the fifth grade class once, set me on the teacher’s desk (I was one of the smallest in my class), and asked me to read to the class from the book I held in front of me. I read upside down so they could see the pictures. Miss Mary’s party trick. 🙂
In high school I had a great teacher for two subjects a day in senior year. It was his first year of teaching, and he still says that class is his favorite. That was 41 years ago now, but a couple of years ago I had a chance to thank him, too. And I’ve had a lot of chances to thank great teachers from my own children’s lives, of which there were many.
Aww, that’s a great story! I really envy those people who had such support from their teachers and can still remember who they are. I can only name two of the teachers I had and it wasn’t because they were supportive or nice to me. Being a minority in a predominantly white area, the teachers paid very little attention to me and didn’t care if I passed or failed. (I passed–barely and that was it for school for me.)
Anyway….my children, thankfully, are having a very different experience. My daughter, Amanda, is graduating this year and I can probably name every one of her teachers because they were the best! Manda has Cerebral Palsy and though it isn’t as severe as a lot of children, it affects her fine and gross motor skills and she has difficulty speaking clearly. She started school when she was three, it was a school for children with any tyoe of disability. Mike was the PE coach and he adored his kids. Manda was one of the youngest and so small (in weight) that everyone was very protective of her. Because of her disability, things like jumping or riding a tricycle were difficult. By the end of her first year, she was doing all of that, including running. Coach told me that when it came time to run in class, all of the little boys would run next to Amanda in a line…no one would pass her and leave her behind. 🙂 Manda has gone to ‘regular’ school from kindergarten on (although her classes are either modified or co-taught).
Anyway….not quite the answer to your question, but, given the chance I’d definitely go back and say thanks to the teachers and staff at that school and let them know that, thanks to their kindness and encouragement, Manda knows she can do anything. This fall, she’s planning to go to The Cordon Bleu Academy in Scottsdale to become a pastry chef!! (mmm….a lifetime of dessert tasting for me!! hah)
Mrs. Coskren, third grade.
She… well, she wasn’t afraid. I’m a teacher’s kid, I know how losing your job can happen, how much arguing with the principal small things take, all that. She still threw a ruler across the room on a warm spring day when we weren’t paying attention in math class, she still showed up on April 1st wearing a scuba mask, snorkel, flippers, and a giant fish head, and told the TA she was going to play soccer with the other third grade. (And she did). Religion not allowed in school? No problem, we’ll do secret Santa’s anyway.
I think the thing was, she cared. Other teachers say they do, but… first two weeks of school, we had spelling an hour a day. She literally tested the entire class on thousands of words. Then she organized us into groups based on how many we got wrong and personalized our spelling lists based on what we didn’t know. And she was ready to let you improve; the proudest moment of my elementary school career wasn’t winning the fifth grade spelling bee, it was moving from the Wednesday group to the Tuesday group in May.
I miss her. I should write her a letter or call her, too.
Alex, Jake and Karen…thanks for sharing! Sounds like you have some great teachers.
Terri…I can totally relate to your daughters situation. My son has down syndrome and if it weren’t for the great, dedicated teachers he’s had, who knows where he’d be!
You must have made Mrs. B’s year! I know I am always touched when former students take the time to reach out years later.
I adored by third grade teacher, Mr. Hellgeth, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. I adored him so much that I continued to write him notes after we left Florida for Kansas. Finally, when I sent him soap on a rope for Christmas, he told me I should probably start building relationships with my new teachers. I was such a little stalker.
Later in high school, I was literally saved from expulsion by my English teacher, Donna Yeargan, who recognized I was a pretty good kid despite my sharp tongue and ridiculous haircuts.
Great story, Eika! Mrs. Coskren sounds like a keep. And, yes, you should write her!
Great post, Brett!.
Not long ago I googled the two who did the most for me. Sadly, both have passed on.
Sister Mary Bonaventure had a reputation for being hard. I got along with her because I always knew what she wanted. She told you up front and never changed mid-stream. She encouraged me to write and more important she let me know she thought I was a good person. I had her three out of four of my high school years.
The other year I had Mr. Halligan. He was a red haired, fast moving Irish Canadian with a zest for life.
is love of books was infectious and I credit my love of reading anything and everything to him.
Thanks, Brett, for helping me remember.
Mrs. Floyd, my 6th and 7th grade reading/language arts teacher. She was encouraging on all dimensions and thought I was brilliant. Who can’t love a teacher like that? And because she believed in me, I always figured there was something in me worth believing in. She was missing her left arm below her elbow, and she never let her handicap BE a handicap. So I also always figured that if she could be positive and happy then so could I. I still see her on occasion when I go home, and I adore her as much now as I did when I was 12.
And then there’s Dr. Locke, my English teacher in 11th grade. He was hard and stern and intimidated the crap out of most kids. He intimidated me, too. But he let me write about whatever I wanted to write about, the farther outside the box the better. I’d always loved writing, but he helped me be excited about it, to approach it not as a talent but as a challenge.
Thanks for letting us reminisce.! I make sure now to let my kids’ teachers know when they’ve made a difference in their lives. And hopefully my kids will let them know themselves one of these days.
Such a great post, Brett. My throat got all lumpy reading it (no, it wasn’t from the fries I was eating). Both my parents are retired teachers, while my sister is one now. In thanking Mrs. B, you’re thanking all the amazing teachers who can change the course of a kid’s life.
My favorite person from school wasn’t a teacher but my high school guidance counselor, Mr. Hickman. He knew what I was capable of before I did. My senior year, he submitted me for a college scholarship without my knowledge. I only found out when he called to say I’d won it.
But I also have to thank my drama teacher, who was the opposite of my counselor. He repeatedly told me I couldn’t do certain things because I was (still am) a minority. For years, whenever I accomplished something he said wasn’t possible, I’d silently thank him for causing me to prove him wrong.
Maribeth and Bobbie…glad to help you remember.
PCN…I actually got a little chocked up writing it. And as for your drama, I also thank him for what he unintentionally got you to do, but I certainly don’t like him.
Should read "And as for your drama teacher,…" Ugh.
Sister Mary Alice in the First Grade read all of the Enid Blyton Adventure books to us. I so loved them and it wasn’t until years and years later I started to look for them and of course they are all collectors items now. Sister Mary Alice was the youngest of nine kids, and the only girl and she became a nun. always was interesting to me.
Mrs. Selmer in the sixth grade. I still have the composition book we used and refer to it now and again. She was amazing and inspiring. I’m going to go look at my high school year book tonight…there were two teachers in high school and I can’t remember their last names, horrible I know, but I’m more removed than most of you from high school — one taught me to love words and the other public speaking. I remember going over a James Agee excerpt and still love to read it, remembering her treatment of it. They were both English teachers and one of them inspired me to write and I published a couple of short stories and produced a play I wrote under one of them. Memories buried in the matrix somewhere.
My theatre teacher in high school, Nancy Nateman, was so good, I’m the only one in that group that isn’t in professional theatre somehow (and you could argue being a trial lawyer isn’t far from it). We all did some professional theatre while still in high school in summer stock and the Washington Theatre Club in Washington, D.C.
Good for you for calling her, a big step in giving back.
Thanks for the shoutout, dude.
Favorite teacher? That would have to be Mrs. Gann, whom I barely remember. I just remember I loved her when I was about seven years old. In fact, she’s the only elementary school teacher’s name that I remember.
But I couldn’t pick her out of a lineup if my life depended on it.
Sister Celia – not as a teacher, but principal of my elem. school. Dynamic, forward thinking – out of 8 high school scholarships available, our class earned 5 – a tribute to how she inspired the teachers who inspired us. Ahh – they don’t make nuns like they did in those days.
Jake, I’ve met you and I can’t imagine you ever being geeky. Funny how we all grow into ourselves, given time and encouragement.
I know I’ve mentioned over here that my dad was a HS English teacher/debate coach. He was that kind of teacher, the one who made a difference and expected the best and changed lives. When he died, my mom received hundreds of letters from former students (and even a few from grateful parents), including one from a woman who became an attorney in spite of her parents’ disapproval and served for a while as President of the ACLU, several from students who went on to become Rhodes scholars, and one from a man who lived out west somewhere and was passing through the Minneapolis airport when he happened to see dad’s obit in the local paper and almost missed his flight because he took the time to call the funeral home to get mom’s address so he could express condolences and gratitude. The letters were unanimous in telling what a huge influence dad had on their lives, how he made them re-write papers and insisted they apply for college when they thought they couldn’t and then wrote letters of recommendation so they got accepted. You might be thinking how sad it is these students didn’t get a chance to say those things while dad was alive. Except I’m certain he knew.
It wasn’t until I had kids of my own that I realized how much "teaching" he did at home, remembered how he insisted on reading (and adding red ink comments to) every paper I ever wrote and made me look up words in the dictionary when I didn’t know them and always expected I would do my best, whatever that might be. And yes I had my dad for 11th grade English (as did all three of my sisters), and yes I called him "dad" in class, and yes he teased and embarrassed me horribly in front of my friends. Hardest damn "A" I ever knew I had to earn. But I’m not sure I’d call him my favourite teacher — he was just my dad.
I don’t think I have a favourite, there were too many who were simply excellent. Certainly some had more of an impact than others. I’m pretty sure Mr. Holcher, a tough demanding humourless old coot who taught AP American History — which I hated with a passion and damn near failed out of sheer orneriness — would be rolling in his grave with laughter if he knew how much history I’ve had to study in order to write my current ms. Every good lie (story) starts with a grain of truth and you have to know what really DID happen before you make stuff up about it. It makes me happy to imagine he knows.
Thanks for the prompt to wander down memory lane, Brett. There is nothing more important than education, nothing, and we all should say "thank you" for that gift more often than we do.
Mr. Van Yperen, and yes, he was a gym teacher. He was also the varsity baseball coach, and he taught me how to coach, something I began as a high school senior, and love to do to this day.
Brett – on Monday I was at a dinner in honor of the high school seniors in art and music, and several of them were designated to get up an honor one of the teachers in the program. I was thinking then, "it just can’t get better for a teacher than to have a student stand up and honor them". Maybe Rob was there and he gave you the idea for the post? Since he couldn’t remember anyone?
KDJames – Thank you for the complement. And you’re right, we definitely grow into ourselves. Trust me, in saying geeky and loser-ish, I was being kind.
As to your dad, he sounds like the kind of teacher I hope to one day be. I wish I could have known him, if only to have picked his brain once or twice. Sounds like a great one.
Brett, this was an awesome thing you did for your teacher, Mrs. B, and for everyone else to go through and think about this. I’m gonna contact my old elementary school and see if they have contact info, since I’ve checked their web site and he isn’t on the faculty. Thanks man. Great, great post.
Prices will fall in line, we’ll all be SSD’ing within 24 months! HDD’s will go the way of Atari!
How funny, I was searching for one of my favorite teachers, to try to find out if she was alive, and I was taken to this blog and the post of the daughter of one of my favorite college professors. You are indeed a lucky girl Miss A of Wichita, if you come back to this you will know who you are. I am lucky too…both are phenomenal people.