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Whispers of Encouragement

It's National Teacher Appreciation Week. Even though it's been a while since I've been a student, I wanted to take this month to recognize a few outstanding teachers who influenced my life. Like any good teacher, the impact of these folks extended well beyond the years I spent in their classrooms.

Let me take you back to 1986 when I was a fourth-grader. I rode the bus, wore GIGANTIC glasses, and felt quiet and shy. Here's a picture of me so that you can create an accurate mental image. Let's not speak of it any further.

Anyhow, Mrs. Yvonne Watkins served as my teacher that year. Secretly, I felt disappointed. Word on the street was that Mrs. Chambers was more fun. And my best friend at the time, Cathy Ryan, had her. With a little trepidation, I began what would become the most wonderful year spent in elementary school. And it had nothing to do with what I learned.

That's the interesting thing I've noticed about education in my years teaching, and probably more so, in my years of raising children. While a teacher who focuses on academics undoubtedly prepares a child for further education, a teacher who attends to a child's spirit prepares that kid for life.

Our 4th grade class - Mrs. Watkins is on the far right.

Do you hear what I'm saying here? I learned loads from Mrs. Watkins: long division (which I can miraculously still do), a love of Anne of Green Gables, and probably tons of other pieces of information. But what I took away from spending that year with her was that I was valuable and had something to offer this world. (Trying not to ugly-cry here at my desk right now).

Up until that year, I thought of myself as "not" - not that smart, not that artistic, not that musical, not that pretty, not that funny, not that popular, not that likable. But Mrs. Watkins changed that. In a very gentle, quiet way, she spoke kindness and possibility into me. Her reassurance came in a variety of ways: encouraging words, special responsibilities, a sly wink and a smile. These simple gestures communicated volumes.

Somehow, Mrs. Watkins helped me understand that the "not" only existed in my own mind. Imagine my surprise when I learned I was thoughtful, hard-working, responsible, and kind. I felt shocked to realize that someone else saw me as creative, imaginative, and diligent. I didn't even know those were things you could be! When I busted my second pair of glasses in a handball game with the boys, Mrs. Watkins reassured me that my dad would not kill me and that things would be okay. Throughout that fourth-grade year I grew; not only in my academics, but in my confidence, strength, and spirit.

There is more to being a teacher than hitting the benchmarks, we all know that. As parents, teachers, and citizens of this world, it's important to value more than a grade on a piece of paper. Mrs. Watkins' influence on me testifies to the persistent power of positive words; encouragement possesses far more might than we realize. It's a challenge to make each daily interaction with another soul count, no matter how brief or benign.

Mrs. Watkins' teaching career is long over, but the affects of her lessons remain with me still. I believe the last time I saw her was when she took me out to lunch the summer before I became a teacher myself. She gave me a lovely glass apple that sat on her desk for many years, and now it sits on mine. And one more time she whispered into my spirit, "You can do this. I know you will be great."

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