What should I get my teacher for Teacher Appreciation Day? What always has the most meaning to us as teachers is that personal comment. We love the ‘You’re the Best Teacher Ever!” notes, but what warms our hearts are things like, “I used to think math was hard, but you make it seem easy.”
As teacher appreciation week approached, I’ve reflected on the teachers that made a difference in my life. Three of my teachers stand out in my mind. When I think of them, I don’t have visions of them standing in front of the room teaching. I simply remember how they made me feel.
I remember being a fairly shy child. Anyone who knows me now would laugh.
I remember my dad telling me to speak up for myself. I remember my mom telling me to stop hiding behind my hair. I remember my grandma asking me what was so difficult about speaking to people I barely knew. There are no more reminders needed for those things. Last week a coworker came to me and thanked me for being brave enough to express an opinion in a group of people that thought differently than I did. It felt weird to have someone thank me for that because that is who I am now. I am that person because of these three people. I wish I could go back as a fly on the wall and remember how they helped me learn to be confident. I wish I knew what they said or what they did. Mostly, though, I just remember how they made me feel.
Why I Appreciate Mrs. Katie Roach
Mrs. Roach, my second grade teacher, was sweet, and kind. She made me feel special and important. What I remember most about her is her smile. She had this huge beautiful smile and her eyes seemed to sparkle. I remember her as always being happy. I remember loving her and wanting to be just like her.
When I was in third grade, Mrs. Roach came to me to check on me after hearing my parents were divorcing. I was no longer officially her student, but again I felt cared for and important.
I ran into Katie Roach at a training when I first began teaching. She came up to me and said, “Mercedes! I can’t believe it, I was just thinking about you.” I found it a little hard to believe. Then, she told me a story that sounded so much like me. She said…
When you were in second grade, you wrote a story and I corrected it in red pen. You came up to me and said, “Mrs. Roach, I worked really hard on my story and I don’t appreciate that you wrote all over it with your red pen.” She then told me that she hadn’t used red to correct papers since. She said she used a red pen for the first time the day before and thought of me.
I love that story. I remember how much my family was trying to tell me n0t to be shy back then. Yet, there I was ready to have a pretty brave conversation with my teacher. Clearly, I felt like she would listen to me.
What is also funny to me is that I don’t like to grade in red pens. I like purple, or some sort of smelly or glitter pen. I also don’t correct my students’ writing by editing it myself. I sit with them and tell them what to correct and have them make the changes themselves (or write a note on their google doc about what they need to correct.)
Thank you Mrs. Roach for teaching me to be brave and giving me an example of what it means to be a caring teacher. I taught second grade for seven year and I hope I had as positive impact on my students as you did on me.
Why I Appreciate Mr. Paul Heller
I had heard so much about Mr. Heller, I knew I just had to join his drama class. I don’t think I actually had interest in acting or getting up on stage. When I first joined the class, though, I thought people who told me he was awesome were crazy. Class felt weird. I was used to sitting in rows and being given assignments by a teacher that stood in front of the room. The first day we were in a circle. He didn’t really talk. We did. The whole thing felt way too loosey-goosey.
Mr. Heller was a person. He was the first teacher that I’d had that made me feel like I was on the same level as him. He noticed things about me that made me more self aware. He challenged me. Most important, he gave me a sense of freedom. I learned how to turn off my nerves and thoughts and go into a zone. I learned to speak from my diaphragm. I learned how to slow down my heart rate and be in the moment. I don’t know what he did or how he taught me to do it but those skills are still with me.
I have no problem standing in front of a group of people and speaking. I’ve spent time traveling from state to state providing professional development. Somehow it feels like there is an actual switch inside me I can flip that allows me get out of my own head and be in the moment. Mr. Heller helped me find that switch.
I am thankful to Mr. Heller for helping me find my voice.
Why I Appreciate Sifu Al Cusimano
Part of my parents’ successful plan to make sure their daughter didn’t remain shy was to enroll me in marital arts. When I was nine they enrolled me in a Kaju Kenbo class. I continued to study martial arts until I left for college. One of the instructors, Sifu Cusimano, made an extra effort to mentor me.
I was a bit quirky when it came to learning karate. I wanted to please my instructors. I wanted to study and memorize the skills we were supposed to learn. However, I had no interest in competition and no interest in hurting someone. I had to learn not to apologize for hitting someone in class. It was actually what I was supposed to do after all.
When I think of Sifu Cusimano, I smile and laugh a bit. He went so over the top to teach me to let go and be strong. I can remember practicing flipping him. He was twice my weight but if you did it right that didn’t matter. The harder I’d throw him to the ground, the louder he would cheer. Then he’d bounce up and tell me to do it again. I can remember practicing kicks with him and him smiling and telling me to kick harder and harder while promising me he would survive. I left my timidity in that dojo. It took years, but it saved my life.
One night in high school, I left my youth group and decided to walk home alone. I was upset. Who knows why. Some sort of teenage angst I’m sure. I walked down to the marina and was sitting on a bench by a parking lot. A car pulled into the spot nearest my bench. The headlights shining on me didn’t go off. I turned and looked behind me. Shading my eyes from the headlights, I could see two burly men in the car.
Annoyed, I stood up and started to walk home. As soon as I passed their car, the car backed out of the spot. Then, it slowly kept pace with me as I walked. I realized pretty quickly that this was not a good situation. These two men were trying to intimidate me. I also realized that I could not out run a car. I made a choice in that moment. I decided to believe my instructors when they told me that the best way to avoid violence was to be calm and confident.
I stopped walking. The car stopped. I turned around and stared at them. Well, I stared at where I assumed they were while pretending the headlights weren’t blinding me. I just stood there staring at this car that was idling in the middle of the road. Nothing. After what felt like an eternity, I shook my head and walked away. The car started to move again and my heart started to race. I spun around and said confidently, “What do you want?!” I stood there and gave them the best pissed-off-not-scared stare I could muster. This time, when I walked away, the car pulled into the next parking spot.
I don’t know what kind of no good those two men had planned when harassing a young teenage girl, but I am thankful to Sifu Cusimano for helping me find my strength.
I am who I am because of the teachers in my life. These three are at the forethought of my mind on Teacher Appreciation day, but there were so many wonderful teachers that made a difference to me.
Have you expressed your appreciation today for the teachers that made a difference in your life?