It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and that’s got me thinking about all the amazing teachers who changed my life. Every kid should be lucky enough to have that one teacher who sets them on a path they might not otherwise have taken. I had many. But today, I’m thinking of the first one who really changed my life.
I had Miss Massey for both first and third grade. She played guitar and sang songs with us, she joked around, she chose a “Super Person” each week who got to be Line Leader, among other special privileges. She had a bookworm named Sylvester. Every time a kid read a book, you got to add a circle to Sylvester’s body…and all year long, he grew and grew and grew, until his circles went out the classroom door and down the hall for all the school to see. She was the most creative teacher I’ve ever had. And she saw that in third grade, I was struggling.
I was smart, but not performing. I couldn’t get things done quickly or neatly. There was an issue. Working with my parents and other teachers, Miss Massey got me help. I was identified as having a learning disability – my motor skills just weren’t working as fast as my brain, and I was suffering. So I went to special classes where we practiced motor skills (I distinctly remember stringing beads against the clock). And Miss Massey pushed me in her classroom. Sometimes that meant missing recess to make up work I hadn’t competed.
Third grade was a rough year, but it was also the year I became a reader. Adding to Sylvester was a challenge I really came to enjoy. I didn’t just read picture books like the other kids, I was tackling novels like Beezus and Ramona, A Wrinkle in Time, and other childhood classics. It meant that maybe I didn’t add as many circles to Sylvester as my peers, but I still got there.
At the end of the year, I had made great strides. I no longer had to attend special classes, and I had helped Sylvester grow. During the end of the year assembly, in front of the whole school, Miss Massey recognized the third grader in her class who had read the most books that year. It was a friend of mine named Kendra, who was the smartest kid in class. But after Kendra had gotten her award, there was another student recognized for reading the most books. There was a tie! And who was that other student? ME! The prize was the book that turned me from a reader into a lover of books: The Phantom Tollbooth. That book awakened something in me that hadn’t been there before. Over the summer, I read more voraciously than ever. Trips to the library were constant – it was all because of Miss Massey.
Miss Massey believed in me. She pushed me. She was hard on me, even when I refused. And she acknowledged my growth in the most encouraging of ways. She’s retired from teaching now, but we’re still friends. In fact, we danced at my wedding.
Thank you, Miss Massey, and all the miraculous teachers out there like you!
Miss Massey at my wedding, with some of the many students she transformed over the years.