Small Stories for a Big World



I’m a fortunate guy. I meet a lot of teachers, and, day after day, I’m given the opportunity to see the magical work so many of them do with young people.

While talking with a teacher, I may tell her or him one of my school-related stories. Which one depends on what we’re talking about or what grade the teacher teaches. If it’s kindergarten, the story is likely to be about how, when I was 5, there was no public kindergarten, and my mother started a kindergarten at our church so that the other children and I could go to kindergarten.

I then say that I spent much of the year in the hall because she was my mother and I talked back. So she would send me out in the hall to maintain order. I have no idea how many times that actually happened. But it’s a fun story to tell.

From the perspective of today, I know that my mother gave me and the other children a big gift by starting a kindergarten. I should probably start working that into the story somewhere.

When I went to first grade at Forest Park Elementary, my teacher was Mrs. Morgan. I have two stories that I might tell about her. One is about how, if we got rowdy, she would simply open the door to the classroom and tell us to run to the fence on the far side of the field and back. If she thought that hadn’t quite done the trick, she would have us do it again. It’s hard to imagine that happening today.

She is also the teacher, who, seeing me coloring a strip of blue across the top of my paper for the sky, told me to look out the window. “What do you see?” she asked. “The blue goes all the way to the ground,” I said. That was quite a revelation.  

If we’re talking about the teacher doing her or his best to see that each student has the working environment that works best for him or her, I may mention that, in second grade, I had so much energy that it was hard for me to stay seated, and how Miss Summers gave me a desk where I could stand up all day.

I later realized that, too, was a significant gift.

When we’re talking about reading and how important it is, I may talk about how much I love to read and tell the story about my fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Barfield, who told me that, as long as I paid enough attention to understand whatever the class was working on, I could just sit in the back of the room and read until it was time to take a test.

That, I realized years ago, was one of the biggest gifts I have ever received, and I do make it a point to mention my sense of gratitude when I tell that story.

A lot of people are walking around with feelings of gratitude for gifts that one teacher or another gave them. It’s too bad the thank-you doesn’t always get delivered directly to the teacher. The problem, of course, is that, often, you don’t understand until years later the gifts you were being given at the time.

When I ask teachers why they became a teacher, many will tell me it was because they realized what teachers did for them and they want to do the same for others.

I like knowing that the world is filled with teachers for whom a sense of gratitude is at the heart of what they do.


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