“That’s when I realized, maybe I’ll never change the world, but I can be a friend. I could show her I didn’t care about her grades as much as I cared about her.”

She is older. Past retirement age. She stands in the Walmart checkout lane with a full cart. In her basket: Kleenex, paper towels, notebooks, number-two pencils, Scotch tape, staples. The works.

She teaches ninth grade. And she’s been doing this for thirty years.

That’s three decades of lesson plans, spitballs, my-Labrador-ate-my-homeworks, senior pranks, and pep-rallies. She is a living saint.

“When I was young,” she says. “Had this idea I was going to be a wonderful teacher and change the world.”

Her first year of teaching nearly killed her.

Ninth-graders are their own breed of domestic skunk. The children drained her youth and drove her toward a nervous breakdown.

“Almost gave up,” she says. “I actually wrote a letter of resignation after my first year. It was that bad.”

It was that bad. But she didn’t quit.

There was a girl in her class. The girl’s mother had died. She had no father. She was living with relatives.

The girl was quiet. Sad. She didn’t try in class. She had no friends. She was a D-student, a poor reader, and a lost child.

“I knew she needed me. So I told myself, ‘I’m gonna win this girl over if it’s the last thing I do.’”

She worked with the child after school hours. She ordered pizza delivery while they studied. She introduced the girl to the simple pleasures of Nancy Drew, and helped her with math homework.

She listened. Sometimes all she did was listen.

“That’s when I realized, maybe I’ll never change the world, but I can be a friend. I could show her I didn’t care about her grades as much as I cared about her.”

The girl’s grades improved. In fact, that year she made A’s in every subject. Her disposition got sweeter, too.

Her life was on the upswing. She dated her first boyfriend. She joined school clubs. She played in band.

And on the last day of class, the girl was sitting outside her teacher’s classroom, crying.

The girl told her, “I don’t wanna leave your class. I don’t wanna lose you like I lost my mom.”

So, they kept meeting every day after school. Through tenth grade. Eleventh. Twelfth. The girl traded her Nancy Drew novels for fatter books with big words. The math problems got harder.

So did her brain muscles.

“We got her a scholarship,” said the venerable teacher. “Lemme tell ya, it was a big day when that happened. I locked myself in my room and cried.”

That was a lifetime ago. They still talk, but not as much.

Today, the girl is a married woman, a business owner, and she has a family. Her old teacher might be up in age, but she’s still as proud as she was decades ago.

“It’s bittersweet with kids,” the teacher goes on. “But that’s how it goes. I’m in their lives for a season. All I can do is love them.

“They don’t realize, once I love them, it’s forever, even after they leave and forget me.”

Thus, another school year closes. And she’s been in her classroom, doing what she set out to do a long time ago.

The same thing all teachers do.

Change the world.

28 comments

  1. Gary - May 10, 2018 7:17 am

    I needed a teacher like that. Sometimes you don’t get what you need and want. I was saddened that the teacher and the girl don’t talk as much now. So sad.

    Reply
  2. Cathi - May 10, 2018 9:21 am

    I couldn’t do what they do so I’m especially grateful for those who teach.

    Reply
  3. KBE - May 10, 2018 10:13 am

    From a teacher to a teacher….you will want to quit after that first year. Don’t. Read this story and say “Amen”…. each day for 30 years…..I have.

    Reply
    • Penn Wells - May 10, 2018 10:44 am

      ❤️❤️❤️

      Reply
  4. TJ - May 10, 2018 10:33 am

    Thank you, Sean. I really needed this today.

    Reply
  5. Penn Wells - May 10, 2018 10:46 am

    We need to take a stab at making it the most important job in America. Decent pay and money in the budget for supplies would be a nice start.

    Reply
  6. Kathy - May 10, 2018 11:04 am

    Sean, my Mom was a teacher for many years. At her wake, I lost count of the number of students who told us how Mom had changed their lives. Teachers change the world, one child at a time. ❤️

    Reply
  7. Sandra Smith - May 10, 2018 11:12 am

    Sean, people tell me, all the time, “It takes a special kind of person to be a Nurse”, and that’s true, but in my mind…it takes an EXTRA SPECIAL kind of person, to be a teacher !
    I appreciate everyone of them too…those who helped me raise MY boy’s, and those who help all of us, raise our kids…I couldn’t do it !
    God Bless Em !!!

    Reply
  8. Marty from Alabama, Oakman that is - May 10, 2018 1:01 pm

    From the mother of a teacher, THANK YOU! Teachers are so often looked over and never given the recognition they deserve. They could have chosen fields that had more to offer, materialistcally. But they chose to be the person that so often changes lives. Now, you decide which made the wiser choice.

    Reply
  9. Sue Cronkite - May 10, 2018 1:13 pm

    Yes. And draw just enough salary to get by. It’s time they were appreciated.

    Reply
  10. Tana Branch - May 10, 2018 1:37 pm

    I retired from Auburn High School —Amen to this little story.

    Reply
  11. Edna B. - May 10, 2018 1:51 pm

    I agree, teachers are an important part of our children’s lives. I think we all should give them more respect, and all the help they need to do their jobs. Some of my fondest memories are of my first and second grade teachers. You have a super day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  12. Nancy S. Jones - May 10, 2018 2:43 pm

    Teachers are an amazing group!! Thank you Sean!

    Reply
  13. Pat - May 10, 2018 2:44 pm

    As the grandmother of a kindergarten teacher I so appreciate this story.

    Reply
  14. Jack Quanstrum - May 10, 2018 2:46 pm

    Hooray for teachers!

    Reply
  15. Reba Bush - May 10, 2018 3:28 pm

    What an awesome legacy this teacher has built and will leave with ALL her students. I pray that my legacy will be like this awesome teacher, a legacy that was built with the greatest of all gifts, LOVE!!!

    I have been in pre-k for 27 years and in the public school system for 31 + years. I am looking forward to many more years of teaching and loving children”)

    Reply
  16. Dianne - May 10, 2018 3:33 pm

    Heartwarming story, again!! I had a Government teacher my senior year in high school in LaGrange, GA….Miss Louise Owen. She never married, but she loved every student who walked in her class as if they were her child. She, in turn, was loved back by her students (children), and has never been forgotten by any of us, even though she passed away a few years ago.

    Reply
  17. Linda Chipman - May 10, 2018 5:02 pm

    Thank you for honoring teachers. My favorite teacher, Mrs. Elaine Gordon, encouraged my love of reading. I have never forgotten this and continue to read voraciously!!

    Reply
  18. Jack Darnell - May 10, 2018 9:00 pm

    You said it so well. I knew that teacher. She was Mrs. Grill, Mrs Owensby and Mr. Hatley. In their class you knew THIS IS A TEACHER! They made you love something you thought you would never love. I wish I could tell it all. You do, THANKS!

    Reply
  19. muthahun - May 10, 2018 9:42 pm

    Thank you, from all the teachers we’ve known and loved.

    Reply
  20. Arlene - May 10, 2018 11:12 pm

    If only more teachers were like this and more children appreciated their teachers. Can you imagine how this country would improve!

    Reply
  21. Carol Stern - May 11, 2018 5:06 am

    Was a teacher and have a godchild, Leigh Horton Cliburn, who is a teacher of this caliber. They are not paid as much as they are worth❤️

    Reply
  22. Jon Dragonfly - May 11, 2018 5:25 pm

    “Ninth-graders are their own breed of domestic skunk.” Ain’t it da truth! Boy, what a turn of phrase.

    Reply
  23. theholtgirls - May 11, 2018 5:26 pm

    There is a group of teachers who will love this, if I may hand it out to the Mamas of homeschool graduates on Saturday. I will add the URLs for your Facebook page and your blog, and you will have 200 new friends before the graduation service starts! <3 Thank you, Sean Dietrich. You change the world every day!

    Reply
  24. Anna - May 13, 2018 11:18 pm

    A wonderful tribute to teachers. I know a few like this teacher…….a true credit to their profession.

    Reply
  25. Kathy Huggins - July 10, 2018 11:55 am

    One of my favorites!

    Reply
  26. Deana - July 11, 2018 4:56 am

    LOVE this one Sean! Then again, I love all your stories. I’m in my 20th year of teaching. The 12-14+ hour days are long, but the years fly by! I’ve had well over 10,000 students now, and I tell each one of them that once they step foot in my school, their footprints are forever on my heart because they will always be my babies. People often say that parenting is the hardest job you don’t ever get paid for, and that’s true, but teaching is the hardest job that you are barely paid for! It’s by far the most rewarding though too. Our real pay doesn’t come in the form of dollars and cents; it’s measured in the lives we get to touch, and the best part is the sweet, unforgettable, and priceless ways our students touch OUR hearts! Teaching ROCKS!

    Reply
    • Gladys R Harris - July 12, 2018 3:25 am

      Sean of the South..another evening of good reading !! Thank you🌠

      Reply

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