Teachers – changing the world one student at a time

4 Oct

I have had many teachers in my lifetime, and many more to come should I ever decide to attend grad school in the future. It’s amazing how some of the most bizarre details of these individuals, the people we spent five days a week for seven or so hours a day, listening to and observing as if they were on display at the local zoo, stick out to us years after we were their students.

Some of my earliest memories of my teachers are details of how they looked. Take my first through third grade science teacher, Mrs. Bloor, for example. She had white-blonde curly old lady hair (you know, like a grandma!), she would draw on her eyebrows and had the kindest smile. I found my old yearbook to double check this and lo and behold, I remembered her perfectly!
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And then there are the odds and ends I remember about the music teacher from the same grades, Mrs. Miles. She had two, big, black poodles she loved talking about! my family and I also would bike past her house when the weather was nice, so I saw them in person a few times, too. I loved her class because she introduced us to music from around the world. One of my favorite memories is that of her dancing around the room holding a rain stick while tribal music played on the speakers. She was teaching the class a chant or something, but that part is hazy. I’ve always had a love of music and I think her class taught me at a very young age to appreciate and enjoy all kinds of music.
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There are two teachers from this school I have seen periodically over the years, who surprisingly remember me. Most recently I saw my kindergarten teacher, Miss Cobbs (she has gotten married and changed her name since I was her student all those years ago), at the first high school football game of this season. I moved school districts when I was going into the fourth grade and for the opening game this year, the school I graduated from was playing the school district I use to attend and she was at the game. I could tell you it’s a small world running into her, but my mom is a teacher in this district as well and they keep in touch at district wide meetings and whatnot. I would also like to point out that I’m as tall as she is, not that that’s saying much as I stand a barely respectable five feet, four inches tall. She also couldn’t believe I was 25, honestly, where has the time gone?!

The other elementary teacher I have seen from time to time over the years was my reading teacher, Mrs. Searfoss. If my mother hadn’t ingrained a love of reading in me from such a young age, I feel I still would have developed it in her class. I can remember reading and writing poems, short stories and her bubbly, infectious laughter. When I moved schools, she mailed me a letter and a book. I came across them just a few months ago tucked neatly away in a box hidden in the back of my closet, which means that at this moment when I’d like to take a photo of them, they are nowhere to be seen.

I’ve had dozens of teachers over the years, but none has had as great an impact on my life outside of school as that of my seventh and eighth grade language arts teacher, Mr. Lawrence.

I remember the first day of his class as if it were yesterday. There we were, all sitting there with the deer-in-the-headlights look as we waited for our names to be called. (Was I the only one who breathed a sigh of relief afterwards because I was in the right room on the first try? I always felt bad for the kid who read their schedule wrong for whatever reason.) Anyways, I was in class with my two best friends at the time, Sarah and Kris, her last name came before mine and his after, as my last name fell near the middle of the roster for the class. Finally I knew mine was to (should) be the next name called based on the students sitting around me, but it wasn’t my last name he called. “Mariah Monkey.”

WHAT?! [Looks at best friends completely confused.] Again he says, “Mariah Monkey.” This time in a tiny, shy voice I speak up, “I’m Mariah, but that’s not my last name.” To which he responded something to the effect of “I know that. But your last name is a species of monkey.” [Collective class ah-ha as it all makes since.] And after that, the nickname stuck. My friends and I started calling each other by nicknames based off our last names. (Sarah became “Birdie,” Kris became “Directions,” and I of course was “Monkey.”) I even adopted the nickname on the soccer field and put it on the back of my team hoodie. And the year I was very sick, it was monkeys that filled my hospital room. On a Saturday morning during soccer games, Mr. Lawrence learned from my parents that I was 1. Very sick and 2. He was the reason behind all my new monkey companions. He made a special trip to visit me in the burn unit and when he came into my room he had the biggest Curious George monkey I’d ever seen. (I named him Taco, but that’s a story for another time.)

While the story of how I got my nickname is interesting to tell, it’s not the true reason why Mr. Lawrence is mentioned in this particular post. I chose to include and publicly thank him because he was the first teacher to recognize that I was a writer.

Growing up I always enjoyed writing. I began keeping a detailed journal at age 10 and I was constantly making up stories and writing poems. And finally, someone outside my family recognized that talent in me as well.

Now don’t get me wrong. There were days when I wondered if I’d ever write something “good enough.” Mr. Lawrence was tough on me, but that taught me to sharpen my skills. He made me ask questions of my writing “are there details that need more explanation, eliminated because it clutters the flow? Have you told the best story you can? Have you conveyed your meaning as clearly as possible? Who is your target audience? Are you using words and language appropriate to them?”
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Mariah, yes you still have “it.” But I must warn you, however,that if you ever figure out what “it” is, you won’t have it anymore. The only way to become a true writer is to write. There are no shortcuts. P.S. It’s comforting to know I may have a small part in touching the world through you. -Mr. Lawrence, October 27, 2006

Many times he told me that writing was going to be important in my future and he was right. I spend my days using the skills he taught me at work to write press releases, blog posts and other various projects. And in my free time I am journaling and blogging. And I am happy to say I have still yet to figure out what “it” is, and honestly I think that’s why writing is still so effortless and enjoyable to me. And that is something I hope never changes.

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One Response to “Teachers – changing the world one student at a time”

  1. The Waiting October 4, 2013 at 7:30 pm #

    I LOVE this. Mr. Lawrence sounds like a fantastic person. Any chance he will get to read this blog post?

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