I loved my first grade teacher. She used to pull on my pigtails and tell me tall tales about her family living in the classroom after school hours. She had the perfect balance between being compassionate and having high expectations. She inspired me to be a teacher. In first grade. I attribute a lot of my goals as a teacher to the modeling she had done for me throughout the years. Yes, I kept in touch with her.
In third grade I wrote an article on her for the school paper.
In sixth grade I volunteered to be a read-aloud buddy to some of her students once a week.
In eighth grade I followed her around for Career Day.
In eleventh and twelfth grade I was a mentor through a great high school program for students in her class.
I wrote my graduate school entrance essay about her, and how she has inspired me. She had such a profound influence on my professional life, beginning when I was in the first grade. I can only hope to be the teacher she was to me and to so many other students.
Today was her retirement party for her school. She is retiring after 33 years of teaching in the same school district. Hearing all of the wonderful things her coworkers had to say about her, I felt privileged to have been in her class so long ago. She dragged me around the room to meet everyone she wanted me to meet, cut my cake, poured my wine... she is forever the compassionate woman I remember from so long ago. I see her in a much more personal light as our relationship transforms from student-teacher to new teacher-mentor to friends.
I came home with stars in my eyes. I feel sad that she is leaving the classroom, but so happy that she can finally enjoy herself in a new dimension. Here is what she said to me today: (some snippets)
In her teacher voice after someone announced that ANYONE may now speak about her: "DON'T YOU MOVE."
"You're beautiful. How's your grandma?"
"Come with me, I want you to meet ____ and _____ and _____ and ..."
Introducing me to someone: "This is a former student of mine. I taught her 32 years ago."
When opening presents:
"Shit, I don't have my glasses on. I haven't asked you this in ages: Can you read this to me?"
"I'll go refill this for you."
Introducing me to someone else she bragged about all of the things I have accomplished over the last year. She knew the details from the conversations we have had, and I felt so lucky to have her support. I can only hope to be as meaningful to student's lives as she was to mine. As she leaned on my shoulder today, sitting there listening to speeches, I knew in my heart that I was meant to be there at that moment. It served a purpose for both of us, and it's totally unexplainable.