Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Thank the Good Teachers of Your Youth

Many years ago, I had one notably fantastic teacher.  Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of great teachers whose names I can still remember in spite of the fact that it's been 15+ years since I stepped foot in their classrooms.  However, this one teach in particular had a particular "shine" that made her stand out in a crowd of many great teachers.

That teacher was my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Molly Argo.  Aside from the fact that she was (and still is!) beautiful, she was a fantastic teacher.  She was fresh out of college when I entered her classroom.  I was part of her first class!  Not her first class where she was an assistant teacher, her first full class!  That sort of noteworthiness manifesting itself in the very beginning of one's career is testament to her natural talent as a teacher.

This lady really believed in me.  I guess she just saw something in me, and she knew just how to bring it out in me.

You see, Mrs. Argo was the first teacher who helped me discover my knack for creative writing.

She had the duty of preparing all of her students for the TEAMS (Texas Educational Assessment of Minimum Skills) test, and part of this test included a short writing assignment.

Prior to entering the 3rd grade, I don't think any of my peers had really written anything well beyond the depth of "Hello!  My name is ___.  I like ___.  Today I ___."  This was a new territory for us as 3rd graders.

We had numerous practice writing assignments.  Sometimes we were just given a picture, and we had to write a descriptive narrative about what we saw.  Sometimes we were instructed to create a fictional story.  Sometimes we were instructed to write a "how to" essay.

I remember one particular assignment started off with a picture of a tiger.  My mom saved this piece; I should ask her for it!  The story I wrote involved a boy named Chase.  I can, in fact, admit that the name was inspired by none other than Chase Hampton from the Mickey Mouse Club.  I know; my shame is great.  In my defense, I was 8 or 9 years old at the time.  Not good enough for you?  Well, I'm sorry.  I am also afraid I cannot assure you that my future disappointments will be better or worse than this egregious childhood error.  Hey, at least it wasn't Bieber.  Yes, yes, I know Bieber wasn't even alive back then.  

Returning back to the story, "Chase" heard that there was a tiger that had broken loose from the local zoo, and there was a reward for its return.  He decided to attempt to capture the tiger by digging a giant hole in his yard and put some camouflage foliage over it.  He did catch the tiger and collect his reward!  Then his dad got mad at him for ruining the yard, and he made him pay for the repairs - putting the dirt back in the hole, putting new grass back down on the lawn, etc.  As luck would have it, the cost of the repair was the exact same amount as the reward for the tiger's return.  Waah-waah!  Yes, even at 8-9 years old, I already had a rudimentary understanding of ironic humor!  

Sure, the piece has a few spelling errors and punctuation errors (again, I was 8 years old!), but it was one of those pieces that drew me into the world of writing.  I had already discovered my love of books, so the prospect of writing my own book seemed a little more within reach.

Aside from instilling and nurturing my love of writing, she was a spectacular teacher.  She was patient, kind, up-building, and empowering.  Since I grew up a little different from the rest of the kids in my classroom, there were certain things I was allowed and not allowed to do due to my parents' religion.  She was always very respectful and accommodating of all of my parents' requests, and that made life a heck of a lot easier all around.  Since she was respectful, the other kids followed her example.  When I was elected class president and I was forced to turn down the role (again, due to religion), she followed my parents' wishes and tactfully explained to my classmates why our vice president would now be the class president.  She helped remove some of that awkwardness that could have easily crept in.

Mrs. Argo always inspired me to do my best, and she knew just how to push me to do my best.  She never came on too strong.  She never left me feeling bored.  She had done such a fine job!  In fact, I remember reflecting back at the end of my 4th grade school year, and I realized the only thing my 4th grade teacher had taught me (that I hadn't previously learned) was multiplication!  Even at that, Mrs. Argo had started those lessons in the last 6 weeks of our school year.  My 4th grade teacher was a stark contrast to Mrs. Argo in so many ways.  It made me miss having Mrs. Argo that much more!

In the years after 3rd grade, we would occasionally see Mrs. Argo and her kids at the grocery store.  After all, that was where practically everyone in that small town saw each other!  She always recognized me and gave me a big hug.  I think I was a teenager or preteen the last time I saw her.

With the advent of social networking, I was able to reconnect with Mrs. Argo.  Every now and then when I write a little narrative about some of my thoughts or daily occurrences, she posts comments, praising my writing.  It always makes me smile because I know she was the person that made it all happen.  She set the ball in motion.

So, for Teacher Appreciation Week a couple of years ago, I decided to write Mrs. Argo a letter and send her a little present to thank her for all she did.  I wanted her to know that she was the person who made it all happen. Again, with the advent of social networking, I was able to find the mailing address of where she was working. The contents of my letter are pasted below.

Dear Mrs. Argo,

It has been almost 21 years since I was last in your classroom, but I thought I should send you something to let you know what a great influence you've had on me in the last 21 years.

You believed in me.  You saw the potential in me with my writing skills, and you nurtured it.  When I look back at my years of education since I first stepped foot in your classroom, I can honestly say out of every teacher I ever had, you certainly taught me the most.  I can look back at each year and reflect on what each year of education brought to me, and my one year in your third grade classroom definitely had the most impact on my education.  I also think I could have skipped the fourth grade because of the fine work you did!  The only thing I remember learning in the 4th grade was multiplication tables, and even so, you had already started teaching us the multiplication tables in the last few weeks of our time spent with you.  I ultimately did end up graduating a year and a half early from High School, and I can say it was because of the fine foundation you helped lay down. 

You were patient and empowering.  You were incredibly respectful of all of my parents' wishes, and for that they were always grateful.  You always inspired me to do my best and to push just a little harder.  You never once tried to push me beyond my capabilities, but that was because you saw so many bigger things within me. 

Since it has been 21 years since I last stepped foot in your classroom, the impact you've had on my life is old enough to drink!  Since I can't be there to toast you, I am also sending a bottle of wine to you as well.  Enjoy it!  Out of all the educators I've ever encountered, you certainly deserve it the most.  It is a Pinot Gris Vin Glace from King Estate in Oregon.  I used to live about 20 minutes from this winery, and it is the biggest winery in Oregon.  It is a delicious wine, and it was one of my favorites!  It is a very sweet dessert wine, so enjoy it with a fruity dessert.  Tasting notes are included and can be found here: http://www.kingestate.com/wp-content/uploads/techsheets/2007/2007SIGLACE.pdf 

The winery also has recommended paired recipes on their website.  I have also enclosed one of those.  I made this recipe, and it was quite tasty.  It would be even better with some caramel.  The wine pairs well with any crème brûlée, fruit tart, or other fruit dessert.  It doesn't pair well with chocolate. http://www.kingestate.com/restaurant/tc-recipe-apple-walnut-creme-fraiche-coffee-cake/#more-1078
 
I just wanted to let you know how eternally grateful I am for all that you did for me 21 years ago.  I know teachers are underpaid and overworked, but I wanted to let you know that you were certainly never under-appreciated.  For all that you did, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  You truly did make a lasting impact on my life, and that is so much more than I could have ever asked for from a teacher such as you.  I only hope that my future children are even half as lucky to have such fine influences in their education. 

Eternally grateful,

-signature-


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She wrote me a lovely thank you note in response.  She said she cried when she received it, and thanked me for reminding her about why she decided to pursue teaching.  I have every bit of confidence to say: if every teacher out there was like Mrs. Argo, every kid out there could reach an amazing potential.  

So, why am I writing this and sharing it with the world?  As I wrote in my letter, teachers are so underpaid and overworked, but they should never be under-appreciated.  I'm sure almost every single person reading this had at least one teacher who believed in them, inspired them, taught them at least one vital life (maybe even life-altering) lesson, or nurtured something in them.  When you read that sentence, a name and a face probably popped into your mind's eye.  I'm writing this so you can find them and drop them a quick note to say thank you.  Don't wait until they're gone.  Tell them now.  If you're still in school, tell them on your last day, and give them a small token of appreciation to remember you.  It would mean so much to them, I assure you!  

Maybe it's been 21+ years since you've seen that one special teacher.  There may have even been a few days when they wanted to go home and have a drink because of you, so it seems pretty fair to send them a nice bottle of wine!  Hopefully they will be able to enjoy it - and maybe even save the bottle and put a copy of your letter in it.

Much like saying "I love you" to your close friends, spouse, partner, parents, siblings, and children, saying "thank you" is something that is typically better to do more often rather than less often.

1 comment:

  1. I'm doing it! I have to find Mrs. Ainsworth and thank her!! Thanks for the inspiration!

    ReplyDelete