Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Lifelong Impact of a Teacher

Please accept my apologies in advance for the wet spots on this blog. I am about to write a very emotional post about a wonderful lady, a teacher, wife, sister, friend and mother. . . specifically my mother. My mother passed away 25 years ago at the age of 52. She lost an 18 month battle with breast cancer. Prior to her death, she spent 25 years of her life teaching 2nd grade. Mom was a very humble person, who never thought she was exceptional at anything. She had a wonderful gift of compassion and love that she gave to everyone she met. Mom knew what it was like to struggle in school and at home. The youngest of 3 children, she lost her dad when she was 8 years old. She attended a strict Catholic school and remembers being severly disciplined by the nuns when her academic work didn't measure up. She had to repeat 1st grade due to prolonged absences for ear infections. I believe that these experiences helped to mold her into the kind of teacher who had empathy and compassion for ALL students, poor, dirty, slow or unloveable. Her favorite expression was: "The children who are the least loveable are the ones who need love the most".
Growing up, I used to be jealous of my mother's time. Anytime we went out in public, parents and children alike would corner my mother to talk. It would take hours just to get through the grocery store. My mother always had time to listen, laugh and encourage her students. I remember that before the school had a breakfast program, my mother would quietly take breakfast food to her students that came to school hungry. She would take mittens, spare socks and stocking caps to kids who were sent to school without. Her teaching techniques were uncomplicated. She loved to share books with her classes, but what she really gave them was so much more than books could provide. She hugged them when they came to school, when they left for home, when they had a success, or when they were having a bad day. She was probably the most genuinely kind person I have ever encountered.
As I write these words, I imagine the readers maintaining some skepticism about the truth to this tribute. Of course, you may be thinking, you would feel that way, after all, she was your mother. Any daughter would be bias when telling about the attributes of a parent. And of course, you would probably be correct. However, I am getting to the substance of this post, the photo shown above. I still reside in the same town in which my mother taught. I know many people in the area, and quite a few have shared stories with me about the influence my mother had on them during their elementary years. I have had grown men and women become teary eyed when telling me how my mother affected their lives and education. This week, however, I was given a very concrete example of the impact my mother had (and still has) on her students. While away from work recuperating from surgery, a former student of mom's (I will just call her T) left the pictures posted above for me with a lovely note. In the note, she explained the collection of photos in the frame and what each picture represented to her (The keys were her Grandpa's. . . he helped raise her, the cat is her daughters, the rock a gift from her son when he was in preschool, and the ribbons and bows represent her and her daughter's youth). I won't share all of the note, but in it she writes; "Your mama loved me and hugged me when I truly needed to feel safe and loved. She was Jesus to a lost and broken little girl." I remember Mom talking about T and the rough home situation she was in. Her grandparents ended up taking her in and raised a wonderful young woman. T and my mom never forgot each other. We would see her around town and Mom would always hug her and ask about her life. I knew they had a special bond.
In the note, T mentioned that she made a copy of the framed photos and donated it to the elementary school library that was named for my mom. T is now in her 40's. It has been probably 36 years since she had my mother in 2nd grade. To say that my mom had a life long impact on this woman would not be an exaggeration. She has raised two children of her own and works in the field of education. I know she would not want me to cry over her gift, but tonight that is just what I did. I shed tears of happiness that I was blessed with a mother like I had, I shed tears of sorrow that we lost her so young, I shed tears of regret that she would never be able to see all the impact she had on so many young lives, and I shed tears for the courage and thoughtfulness it took T to open up her heart and soul in the way she did. Even now, after writing all this down, I have feelings I can't explain welling up inside of me. . . I have had 25 years to come to grips with my mother's death, but this unexpected gift has brought so many memories back that I have tried to bury.
I think that it was no accident that this came to me during the week of Thanksgiving. I am truly Thankful for my mother and the gift she was to me and so many others! I love you Mom. . . and I hope you know how special you were to so many.

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