I read an essay on Slate: a touching tribute to the author's influential teacher. It reminded me of some of the teachers who made a positive difference in my life.
Mr. Marr, who taught high school English and Psychology, was an important teacher in my life.
Mr. and Mrs Black, a married couple who taught in neighboring junior high classrooms, were also influential.
Mrs. Vest, my first-grade teacher was wonderful, too.
But of all the fine teachers I had during my school years, I most remember Mrs. Waas. She taught high school English in Woodland Park, Colorado and I had her classes for my freshman and sophomore years. She took a socially-awkward, skinny and decidedly unblossomed girl and said the magic words that would change a life: "This is really good."
Even though teachers all through the years had given me high marks in my language classes, even though I was a strong speller and did well with reading comprehension, etc., it was Mrs. Waas and her constant approval and encouragement that tipped the scale.
I knew I could spell. Grammar was easy. Mrs. Waas read my compositions and was the first one in my life to tell me that I really had something to say. From my short stories and poems to my book reports, she engaged a wordy girl and her thoughts. She made insightful comments, argued a point with me, helped me write with more clarity and treated my words with respect. I can not stress that last point enough: she treated my words with respect!
We may never know the impact we have on other people's lives. Some teachers may hear from a student from time to time, but they never really know. It was about 37 years ago that I sat in her class for the first time, and was changed forever. There is great power in our words, and her words of approbation, words written in red pen and often punctuated with exclamation points (Interesting! Good point! Well said!) made an awkward, unsure girl become aware of her own ability and passion.
What can you say to someone today, to uplift them in that way?
What can I? I think I will look around for something to say. For words are power.
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