She kept a jar of miniature candy bars on her desk with a box of birthday candles next to them. I didn’t notice them immediately but they came to play an important role as the school year went on.
Being a shy, insecure, introverted eleventh grader, I was mesmerized by her confidence, elegance and subtle sophistication.
She was well-spoken, worldly and cultured.
I often wondered how she came to live in this sleepy, southern town.
She taught English and Literature and firmly believed possessing proper grammar and a knowledge of beautiful literature could open doors for her students.
Later I learned she was correct.
Walking into her class each day, we quickly knew which student was having a birthday because a “Happy Birthday” sign was displayed on her podium and she gifted them with one of those miniature candy bars complete with a birthday candle taped to the top.
For that one hour of class that student believed he or she was worth celebrating.
She shared her fascination of Beowulf, introduced us to Canterbury Tales and invited us to sail along in Homer’s The Odyssey knowing one could travel the globe with fascinating characters, grow and learn simply by opening the pages of a book.
My essays were always returned with critiques kindly laced with compliments. Little did she realize how much I valued and needed those words of praise.
Each time I sit down to write a blogpost, journal entry or speech, I hear her reminding me of the power, impact and influence of words so always choose them wisely.
She repeatedly stated that education was not limited to the classroom and should not end upon upon graduation contrary to popular belief.
She believed that opportunities, adventures, experiences, people, places, books, music, art, theater, successes and failures are all teachers with life-changing lessons if we will simply listen and always remain curious.
She encouraged me to see beyond my small town and ignited a passion within me to explore the world, study and emulate those I admire and develop my talents of writing and public speaking skills to inspire others.
While waiting my turn to kiss the Blarney Stone in Ireland, I remember wondering if she had any idea that day in class when she encouraged her students to create a Dream List, the profound effect it would have on this country girl living in the Deep South.
She granted me permission to dream big without limitations and each time another adventure get’s checked off my list I silently thank her.
To this day I don’t chew gum because she demonstrated in class once how one looks chomping on gum while carrying on a conversation. It was comical yet mortifying. Lesson learned.
Thankfully, she took the time to teach us excellent communication skills and how to express ourselves in an educated, dignified manner, skills I still employ today.
She instilled in me the value of continued learning and acquiring culture which is why I am often found strolling museums, spending countless hours at the library, taking online classes, learning new languages, reading biographies, traveling anywhere, watching documentaries, attending the symphony, shows or the ballet or have my head buried in a book.
My eleventh grade teacher stood shoulder to shoulder influencing my life with another teacher, one who never stepped foot into a classroom yet has spent her life educating and encouraging others in the bounty of God’s love, mercy and grace.
For her, the classroom is anywhere life presents an opportunity whether she is behind the pulpit, standing in the checkout line or sitting in her living room.
Her daily curriculum includes studying the Word, always saying “Yes” when God calls, never writing off those the world has deemed as lost causes and above all practicing what she preaches.
If ever someone walked their talk it is her. If you don’t believe me, ask my friends.
Each time I stand up to deliver a speech, write a blogpost, conduct an empowerment course, guide a client through a strategy session, take someone’s hand in prayer or share my story with others, it is because I watched this teacher live with complete authenticity and never a judgmental spirit.
She encouraged me to move beyond my past, always pursue spiritual and personal growth, step out of my comfort zone, seek to be a blessing, love without expectations and extend forgiveness even when the apology never comes.
Two teachers, two different learning environments, one forever changed student.
It would be impossible to determine how many people these two teachers have positively impacted.
Their legacies will forever continue simply because both answered the call to educate, empower and encourage their students, giving unselfishly of their time, talents, experience and wisdom.
To all the teachers in the classroom and beyond, thank you!
To my teacher Donna McLean – thank you!
To my mother (my greatest teacher) Joanna Barnes – thank you!
Know a teacher who changed your life? Thank them today.
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