The Teachers in Our Lives

Last Thursday night I jotted a few last things on a piece of paper and organized some props that I planned on bringing to my presentation the next day. While I’ve done presentations for 4th, 5th, 6th, 11th and 12th graders, I’ve never done one for 1st graders.

Since most first graders are six years old, I knew that I would have to find ways to keep them focused. The younger the audience, the shorter the attention span usually seems to be. When I outlined the things I wanted to cover I tried to find ways that I thought we could interact with each other. I could listen to them and they could listen to me. My primary goal was to let them have fun.  Sometimes a presentation will take a different direction than what was originally planned.

When I arrived in the classroom Mrs. Osgood quickly introduced me to the class. The moment was priceless. The kids seemed excited and some of them were in awe. I could tell that for a few minutes they thought I was larger than life. After I asked a few of them to help me find a chair to sit in, they graciously scurried around to get a “big person” chair for me.

Instead of trying to give my presentation as an adult, I tried to lower myself to their level of thinking, so it would be easier for all of us to communicate.  I asked easy questions that they wouldn’t have to think about for very long. In order to include all of them we went around the classroom one at a time and gave every student a chance to participate. If one of them didn’t want to participate we moved on to the next one.

Halfway into the presentation I realized that I was losing a few of them. At that point I broke out a few of my props. I took out a set of shed antlers from a deer. I gave them a quick lesson about shedding by explaining to them that deer lose their antlers every winter and grow new ones for the following year.

When I reached into my bag and pulled the antlers out I asked if anyone knew what they were. One of the children yelled out, “They’re deer horns!” Suddenly, a small boy quickly corrected her by saying, “No they’re not. They’re deer antlers.”

I had to explain to the class that, yes, indeed, they were antlers and not horns. As the antlers made their way around the class the kids were having a ball. A few of them held them on their heads and pretended to be deer. I had to help one or two of them when I noticed the antlers were facing the wrong direction or they weren’t quite in the right place on the head.

After I took the antlers out the children were once again paying close attention to what I was saying. From there I asked all of them to make animal noises. After they made their noise I would try to guess what the noise was supposed to be. I did quite well until we got to the end of the class.

The boy made a noise that I didn’t recognize. Actually, I couldn’t even guess what it was, so I timidly asked him if he could tell me what the noise was supposed to be. With a big, toothy grin he politely informed me that it was a lion. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I smiled at him and said, “That sounds like a pretty weak lion. I think your lion needs to be a little louder and more intimidating.” At that point a few of us tried making lion noises together. When we were done I think we were much closer to the actual animal kingdom noise than where we had started.

As time was winding down Mrs. Osgood asked me to sit in the rocking chair while the kids gathered around on the carpet. She wanted me to read a story to them before they left for the day.

To my amazement I had their attention through the entire story. Although the newness of my visit had long since faded, I could still see the excitement in many of their faces. Although I can’t read a first grader’s mind, I’m pretty sure that they all liked me. I tried to make them realize that we were all the same. The only difference between us was that I had more years of experience to draw from. Earlier in the presentation I told them about one of my first grade experiences that I will remember for as long as I live. That’s when I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. I missed a lot of school that year, but I was still able to move to second grade the following year. I also shared the story with them about the time that I was sitting on the carpet during story time and peed my pants. Although they all laughed and found it funny, I’m not sure Mrs. Osgood was so thrilled. I just tried to make them realize that even I had done something  when I was their age that I wasn’t too proud of. Sometimes we have to make kids realize that it’s ok if something happens that we can’t control.

After a few pictures were taken the bell rang, which signified the end of the school day. A few of the kids came rushing back to say goodbye, while others scampered out the door. A few of them wanted hugs and thanked me for making their day special.

Mrs. Osgood took the bus riders to the bus and I gathered my stuff that was scattered across the room. As I sat there waiting, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. I hadn’t done a thing, other than made a group of kids happy for a little over an hour. I’m not sure if any of them will ever remember me as their lives move forward. If they don’t, I will know that I made them smile, laugh and carry on, while they were listening to me talk. If you can make a difference in anyone’s life, especially a child, there’s a feeling associated with it that can’t be compared to anything in the world.

This August it will be 24 years since I showed up at SUNY Oneonta for my first year of college classes. I wanted to be a teacher, but beyond that I wasn’t really sure what life had in store for me.

When I got into my second year I made a choice that steered me away from teaching. I’ll never know for sure if it was the right or wrong choice, but any way that I look at it, it’s the choice I made. Since I’ve been doing the presentations at different schools it has made me realize that I probably could have been a good teacher. I also think I could have made a difference in the lives of a few children along the way.  That’s why I try to give back as much as I can. It’s never too late to make a first impression.

I have a lot of friends who are teachers. The friends are men and women alike. They’ve been educated all over the world, too. They all share one thing in common. They’re my friends and I’m proud of  them. They’re good teachers and they enjoy what they do. I consider myself very lucky to hear their stories. I can see the light in their eyes when they talk about their students from the past and the present.

If you get a chance think about some of your old teachers. We all have teachers that stand out in our minds. Those are the teachers that truly made a difference in our lives. I know that three of my closest friends are these type of teachers. Two of them still teach and one does not. The one that doesn’t simply chose a different career path for the time being, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she ends up back in the teaching world.

We come across many teachers in our lives. These teachers aren’t always in school either. Sometimes people appear in our lives to give us guidance in areas where we are lacking expertise. They might know what to say to us or they might know how to give us a gentle nudge in the right direction. No matter what they do, we should always acknowledge these special people and thank them for everything they do for us. That’s our responsibility. Don’t ever let these people fade into a memory. Try to realize that without these people we might still be stuck on a road to nowhere. Thank you to everyone who has ever helped me on my journey. I will never forget any of you.

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