In November of fifth grade the health van ladies told me I had scoliosis. “Great. . . lovely,” I thought as I sat in the second-to-back seat in the yellow bus, looking out the window. This meant wearing a back brace. I named it George. George and I were together 24/7.
Up until that point, I remember liking school, some days even loving it. Spelling, grammar, books, flair pens–this stuff has always been my jam. But in fifth grade with a back brace, I sat in the classroom thinking, “I couldn’t care less about this lesson. I’ve got other things on my mind.”
Some of my teachers at this time really saw me and realized I was having a hard time. It’s one thing to feel a square plastic/aluminum contraption tight on your body. It’s another to wear it through junior high when it’s hard to feel comfortable in your own skin, regardless. Some of my teachers weren’t just teaching subjects. They were teaching me. I am so thankful for them.
These teachers got me thinking how teachers really make a difference for their students. What if I became a teacher? The spark of an idea had begun. Then, as a freshman in high school, a friend’s random comment moved me one step closer to teaching. We were cleaning up desks after school, and I was (of course) talking with silly voices to make the chore more interesting–you know, being my weird self. Hearing me goof off, an upperclassmen, Crystal Speckman, said off-handedly, “Have you ever thought about going out for speech?” No, I hadn’t. And she didn’t know how important this suggestion would be to me.
Going to speech competitions was like finding the secret passageway to a room that I didn’t know existed. Speech meets were a place where it was safe to be my quirky self, to love words and share them with other people. Speech and drama were both like that for me. My two English teachers, Karen Wolken and Judith Ruskamp, were the coaches.
I loved how Mrs. Ruskamp did (and does) everything with excellence. She made me want to be better. When she asked us to run through the show one more time, we groaned, but we also knew she was making us better. I loved how Mrs. Wolken would have fun with her lessons, telling silly stories of her kids. She showed me how teaching could be joyful. Both of them together sparked the idea that I might be an English teacher.
All these years later, some teaching days are especially hard, but remembering WHY I decided to become a teacher in the first place helps. So here’s a morning toast . . . to the teachers deciding to be a teacher again today, to the ones asking kids to run through that play just one more time, to the ones coming up with silly stories to frame their lessons, to the ones really seeing the kid who’s going through all that hard stuff, to the ones saying, “Hey, have you thought of going out for speech?” and to the ones remembering WHY they got into all this in the first place. They really do make a difference.
Gratitude Dare #4
- Write an anonymous thank you note.