Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! Last year I asked fellow educators to recognize colleagues in their schools who are doing great work. This year, I asked friends to think back to when they were sitting in their students’ seats - and remember the teachers who inspired them! In this series, we will share stories from our past and honor the educators who positively influenced us. I’ll kick it off by telling you about a teacher who truly changed my life and inspired me in so many ways...
When I was in 4th grade, I had a teacher named Mary Ann Buckman. On the first day of school, she greeted us by saying that she was 98 years old, drinks from the fountain of youth, and lives with a dinosaur named Jeff. I can remember all of this in crystal clarity after all these years.
Ms. Buckman was the first teacher who taught me to approach learning as an adventure. She encouraged all of us to wonder. Every day I arrived in school, I knew I would be stimulated, challenged, and encounter the unexpected. As a 9-year-old this is an amazing feeling. Ms. Buckman had a way of making each lesson feel special and meaningful to all of her students. She helped us experience our learning. To learn about dinosaurs, we learned about her “pet” dinosaur Jeff and his “friends” the other members of the “Jurassic Gang.” To learn about our state’s history, we were told the “story” of where Ms. Buckman’s fountain of youth stash came from and who was the original explorer to seek it. To learn about the Everglades, we went on a mud walk at a swampland nearby our school and collected plant specimens. I remember lying in the sun when we came back, trying to dry off from the wet mud and cold springs that we had to swim through and thinking, “Wow, I love school.”
Ms. Buckman’s approach to learning inspired us to explore the outer regions of our imaginations. She pushed us to stray from our comfort zones and attempt new endeavors - to challenge ourselves to be something more than we already were.
It was Ms. Buckman who inspired me to become an educator.
As such, the summer after I graduated from college, I called Ms. Buckman and asked her to lunch. We had been exchanging Christmas cards every year since 4th grade and so I knew how she was doing, she knew about my general life, but we hadn’t seen each other since I was 9 years old. When she walked into the room, I felt excited, just as I had every morning during my 4th grade school year. We talked about our experiences since last we met, our hopes for the future and finally, I told her my big news: I was going to be teaching a 4th grade classroom in the fall. She cried and I cried and she gave me the best blessing I could have ever hoped for: she told me that she always knew I’d become a teacher.
A week later, I received a package in the mail. In it was a blue glass bird and a prayer. She had sent me the “blue bird of happiness” - the same blue bird that had adorned her own desk all those years ago when I was a student in her room. The prayer was for me and my future students. She sent the blue bird to watch over us and inspire me to be the best inspiration for them.
While Ms. Buckman’s package was a kind gesture, and truly touched my heart, it was not the greatest nor the most valuable gift she gave to me. The gift I truly treasure and utilize day after day is the experience I had as her student. Each day that I work with my students, I try to remember how much better it was to experience learning rather than watch it. It is my goal to make my students say to themselves - as I did that day lying in the sun - “Wow, I love school.”
The opinions expressed in Teaching Toward Tomorrow are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.