Teachers have an impact

Teachers have an impact

As I hear the shouts of liberated school kids and the honks of the school bus I am thrown back to junior high in Oregon in the late 1960s. I am reminded of the influence of one teacher that meant so much, and struck by the awesome privilege and responsibility you teachers have today.

Miss “T” was my seventh grade science and PE teacher. She was tough and a lot of the kids didn’t like her. But I did. She simply taught well and was interested in us.

The gift she gave me was belief in me. Since the age of 10, I was always overweight, and now I was in her PE class at the age of 12 going on 13. In the spring of my seventh grade year she encouraged me to go out for track the next year, especially for shot put. Those who know me, know I am NOT an athlete in any form. Yet Miss “T” believed I could do it. I don’t remember her words — just her presence of belief that I could do it. I knew she cared.

I decided that because she thought I could do it I would try it. Just for her. I couldn’t wait to get back to school the following fall to hopefully get her in another class. To my great disappointment she didn’t return. We had no internet in those days, nor did schools give out location information, so I couldn’t find her. Not being an athlete, nor possessing an athlete’s sense of purpose or drive, I did not go out for track. My heart wasn’t in it especially without the person I had known who believed I could do it.

Do I regret not going out for track? No. It really wasn’t/isn’t me. I was heartsick that Miss “T” had gone elsewhere and I had never gotten to tell her how much she meant to me.

To this day I haven’t forgotten her or the way she made me feel — the confidence she had nurtured in me. Some years back I was able to locate her via the internet and got a message to her at the school she volunteered for. Modern technology allowed me to tell her how much I appreciated her and how she impacted me. She was grateful to know and I hope she, in her 70s by then, felt very valued.

So teachers, as you say “goodbye” to this year’s schoolchildren, and look forward to next year’s, please know that you are far more important to your students than the subjects you teach. The most important gift that you can give each student is your belief in them as a person who can accomplish big things, who is someone of worth, and who will continue to grow into someone of character and substance. I wish I had understood the gravity of that gift earlier in my life so I could have bestowed it more plentifully upon others!

You may not hear of, or see, the fruit of your efforts for many years much like Miss “T” was surprised almost 50 years later to hear it from me. Belief in someone is a good seed that you are planting. I hope you will be rewarded many times over, and sooner rather than later, for all the good seeds you have planted in the gardens of your student’s hearts. Thank you for all you do.

Harriet Cook, Federal Way

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