“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.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week.

34 comments

  1. Darlene - May 9, 2019 6:46 am

    As a recently retired teacher, thank you for this. ❤️

    Reply
  2. Nell Thomas - May 9, 2019 7:15 am

    They all need our thoughts and prayers. I’m sure the profession is getting more challenging all the time.

    Reply
  3. Cathi Russell - May 9, 2019 8:01 am

    My sister just retired after 33 years in the classroom and her blood pressure is better, she looks happier, she is happier. It takes its toll on them, our teachers, but they wouldn’t have it any other way. God bless & love our teachers…they’re AMAZING!

    Reply
  4. Janie Fuller - May 9, 2019 9:02 am

    Her name was Mrs. Elizabeth Reed and she saw something in me no one else had ever seen. She looked beneath the bundle of insecurities and doubts I carried and saw someone eager to learn. She asked me to be her teachers’s helper in seventh grade and for the first time in my life I felt like I could make a difference in the world. She encouraged me to write. Writing became therapy for this child with a tumultuous home life. She was a tiny little red head with a huge heart and she changed my outlook on life. I will never forget her. God bless every teacher who touches a life.

    Reply
  5. GaryD - May 9, 2019 9:21 am

    I know there are teachers like that in the world. Wish I could have met one while I was in high school. Sadly, I didn’t.

    Reply
    • Stephanie - May 9, 2019 10:40 am

      Me too!!

      Reply
  6. Steve Bailey - May 9, 2019 9:25 am

    Beautiful.

    Reply
  7. Sherry - May 9, 2019 11:15 am

    Thank you….

    Reply
  8. Sarah - May 9, 2019 11:54 am

    I had several like that when I was in school….and I know many like that today at our local school. Thank you, Sean, for your beautiful and heart felt writings.

    Reply
  9. Karen - May 9, 2019 11:59 am

    I had a teacher like that in college – Dr. Francis Roberts. She knew I had to make a certain grade in her history class to graduate. She arranged and led a study session for the final exam, on a Saturday. I had to get a ride from the other side of town, but I got there. She drove me home afterward. I got an A in that class. She was older, recovering from Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and she walked with a cane. I was really moved that she would care so much about a 22 year old who had messed up her life. I have never forgotten her.
    Thank you, Sean.

    Reply
  10. Robyn Rennick - May 9, 2019 12:32 pm

    Being a teacher for 40 years, you brought a tear to my eye. It is about individual students, one at a time. We provide ways for them to change/grow – sometimes we get to see them change their world.

    Reply
  11. Connie Havard Ryland - May 9, 2019 12:39 pm

    I get teary every time I read this one. Teachers are saints on earth. I know there are bad ones somewhere but I’ve never met one. Thank you for the sweet reminder.

    Reply
  12. Joe Patterson - May 9, 2019 12:41 pm

    We all grow up and move on but we never forget our good teachers.One of the main regrets I have in life was some of my really good teachers died before I hand enough sense to thank them.

    Reply
  13. Susan Hatfield - May 9, 2019 12:53 pm

    I got the opportunity to see my sixth grade teacher, Mrs Mildred Harbor, at my father’s funeral. Daddy was 99 when he passed. I was 62. She must have been at least late 80’s or older. Hasn’t changed much, just white hair and a little fragile. She told me I will always remember you, you were a good student. She said you don’t remember me do you? I said of course I do, Ms Harbor! She teared up. We had a great conversation about the Good Old Days. Glad I got to tell her she was a memorable person in my life.

    Reply
  14. Donna Moore - May 9, 2019 1:29 pm

    Thank you from a retired teacher!

    Reply
  15. Shelton A. - May 9, 2019 1:42 pm

    God bless all our teachers…several meant a lot to me. Let them get paid what they are worth and for what they do for our kids and our society.

    Reply
  16. Minnie Bourque - May 9, 2019 2:19 pm

    Thank you, Sean! Trust me, the words you wrote and the words from this teacher resonate within me. I taught for 31 years and still miss it, but know there are younger minds out there teaching in my place, as it should be. The latest incident in the STEM School in Highlands Ranch rocked me to the core. I taught in Jefferson Co. where Columbine is located and had retired the year before that tragedy. I knew sev children involved in that and had taught the father of one of thee victims. So very tragic and senseless. I treasure my days in the classroom and think about the many children who crossed my path. I continue to have contact with many of them and am very proud of all of them. It is not an easy, lucrative profession, but is, perhaps, one of the most rewarding!
    thank you, Sean!

    Reply
  17. Ala Red Clay Girl - May 9, 2019 2:53 pm

    In the many years since my 8th grade graduation, I managed to speak to four of my former teachers and let them know how much I appreciated them. I’m thankful for those opportunities since they are now gone. If only I could find a few of my teachers from high school or college now. Thanks for the reminder, Sean.

    Reply
  18. Linda Moon - May 9, 2019 3:07 pm

    On behalf of all the Valera McInnises of the world, I Thank You for the appreciation reminder. She was my teacher from grades 5-8, along with 20 other challenging students. She is a very significant part of who I am today all these years later.

    Reply
  19. Summer - May 9, 2019 3:24 pm

    Wonderful tribute to teachers everywhere. Teachers like that one are never forgotten, nor are the ones who scarred us for life. Teaching is a holy calling. I knew after my first class (9th graders) of student/teacher observation my sophomore year of college I wasn’t called. God bless those who are!

    Reply
  20. Nancy Stroup - May 9, 2019 4:17 pm

    Thank you for this reminder. I hope I was this kind of teacher.

    Reply
  21. Edna B. - May 9, 2019 4:43 pm

    This is a wonderful story. There really are some awesome teachers out there. Thank you for all of them. Sean, you have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  22. MaryJane Breaux - May 9, 2019 5:06 pm

    Third Grade, new kid. She was sunshine, Mrs. Godwin…and yes, her name says it all. I will never forget her or how she made me feel. Crying at my desk, Sweet story Sean.

    Reply
    • Summer - May 10, 2019 1:43 pm

      Our girls had a 2nd grade teacher named Mrs. Godwin who made such a huge impact on both their lives, she’s still in all of ours. She’s attended graduations, pageants, weddings, baby showers, etc. for nearly 30 years. God bless those ones and those who aspire to be them!

      Reply
  23. robert - May 9, 2019 6:51 pm

    Thank you Miss Pool from Main Avenue Elementary School in Sylacauga, Alabama. You made my fourth grade year the best of my life!

    Reply
  24. Jack Darnell - May 10, 2019 1:53 am

    Thanks old man. I had a teacher like that. Mrs Grill in a NC mountain school. She didn’t cre if I was the Holiness Preacher’s kid. I spent many hours after school, washed boards and emptied pencil sharpeners, it was punishment, but she taught me at the same time. I will never forget Mrs Melissa Grill, 7th grade teacher, Valdese, NC

    Reply
  25. Charaleen Wright - May 10, 2019 4:04 am

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  26. Estelle - May 10, 2019 8:20 am

    It’s a shame that the people who are most important in our lives,Our children are paid so little. Not only that, but many buy supplies for their classroom out of their own pocket. School boards are not budgeted with enough money by city and county leaders to furnish a classroom with adequate supplies. Even worse they don’t pay teachers a living wage. Our teachers are not respected enough by parents. Teachers now have to watch out for students with guns and knives while trying to teach. I had wonderful teachers. I did not go to college till I was 35 years old. Because I had had good teachers I was able to pass a CLEP exam so I was able to get college credit for a semester of English. I made A’s in math history and my science courses. All due to my teachers who spent time to help me with subjects I didn’t quite understand. God bless and protect our teachers. ?❤️

    Reply
  27. John Allen Berry - May 10, 2019 5:52 pm

    Thank you, Sean. This is the kind of shot in the arm we all need.

    Ph.Dude

    Reply
  28. unkle Kenny - June 8, 2019 1:54 pm

    The FFA teacher who taught us boys to be men will live in my heart forever . 40 years after graduation and during thoe years we visited in walmart while our wives shoped . I would visit him at his house. I was his student but he treated me as a man . Lost he and his wife two years ago. When I pass by his house I still wave . He was a good man , my Church Deacon , my mentor, my friend . RIP L.E.

    Reply
  29. Melanie - June 8, 2019 4:51 pm

    As an elementary music teacher, I literally see every K-6 student in my school….and sometimes this task is overwhelming….but with this kind of encouragement, I know I can keep doing what I do…one child at a time…..Lord, help us to keep finding encouragers. ❤

    Reply
  30. Sharon Whatley - June 8, 2019 8:36 pm

    Sean, I met you at the Episcopal church in Dothan and had the pleasure of dining with you and your lovely wife, Jaime. You asked what I did for a living, and I told you that I taught. You were gracious and smiled, but as I listened to you speak later that evening, I realized that you had had the best and the worst of experiences with teachers. I went home that night and prayed to God to never be like THAT teacher who told you that you would never amount to anything. I know time has passed and you’ve put the lie to that teacher, but the scar remains on your heart. Your life story remains in my heart and it continues to inform my teaching today. This story is your second gift to me. Thank you.

    Reply
  31. petrie68 - June 13, 2019 1:01 pm

    That feeling when a graduating high school senior sees his kindergarten teacher, picks her up off her feet, and engulfs her in the warmest hug ever!
    Thanks for the memories.

    Reply
  32. Rhonda Blanton - June 24, 2019 6:33 pm

    I’m a retired middle-school teacher, and I truly appreciate this.

    Reply

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