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Tell Them While You Can

This week marks my wife’s third week of school already, not counting the week of in-service training, and the stories she shares when she gets back home every night are a mixed bag. Some are just downright funny. For others all I can do is shake my head in amazement, either at how tech-savvy today’s kids are or at how they do or say things that we’d never have dreamed of saying. But all of them bring back memories of my own days in school. Back in the “good old days,” eons and eons ago, back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, in those days when nobody had any fun at school (or so we often thought then).

But we really did have fun. At least I did. I actually liked school. Once I got past those first couple of weeks of first grade, when I cried all the way to the school bus and finally “dried up” just before arriving at school.

The Bible tells us that we should remember not only what we’ve learned but also from whom we learned it, and, thankfully, I can still remember those people.

First grade. Mrs. Zachary, bless her heart! I think she must have aged five years that year, trying to teach this slow learner how to tie a shoe. She used as a prop (I guess the correct term is “teaching aid”) one of her husband’s big old work shoes, which she had spray painted gold. The shoe itself was as stiff as a bronzed baby shoe (another thing people did back in the dark ages), but the laces were soft and pliable. I struggled and struggled to learn how to tie that shoe. I think they passed me to second grade when I finally mastered that one task just to be rid of me.

Second grade. Mrs. Kirkpatrick. Taught me to be responsible by giving me responsibilities and expecting me to finish the job and do it right.

Third grade. Mrs. Bailey. Always chose me to go downstairs to the cafeteria twice a day to get her a hot cup of coffee. (I think it had something to do with my grandmother working in the cafeteria.)

Fourth grade. Mrs. Porter. She had the year before suffered a heart attack, so she was still moving slowly. I think that example helped calm us boisterous kids down a bit and encouraged us to take life a little more slowly and calmly. But more importantly she helped me understand that sometimes in life you might be falsely accused and, rather than fighting for one’s rights, it’s sometimes better to suffer a material loss in order to maintain a friendship. I never got to keep the pocket knife that had been given to me by another student, but I was able to keep him as a friend, and I have several even better pocket knives today.

Fifth grade. Mrs. George. Old Mrs. George. She taught me to love reading and history. She also began my lessons in not worrying about what people thought about me if I was doing something good. Old as she was, she got down in the floor in that flowing floral (“old woman”) dress of hers and did situps in front of the class to demonstrate the importance of exercise to good health. She admitted that she was old, but she was also fit!

Sixth grade. Mrs. McMillan. Like Mrs. Kirkpatrick, she taught me responsibility by giving me responsibility. It was partly her recommendation that got me selected to be on the elite safety patrol team. She also was instrumental in my selection to win the coveted Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizenship Award. I still have the medal and lapel pin for that award.

In middle school, we began to change classes and had many more teachers, so it’s harder to remember some of those people and what they taught me (or failed to teach me). But many of them have a special place in my heart. Because I was shy, the most introverted of introverts, they never knew of the impact they had on my young life. I wish I could have told them.

Let that be a lesson for any younger readers. If someone–a teacher, a preacher, a youth leader of any sort–has made a positive impact on your life, tell them so while you still can. Thank them. Write them a note (thereby engaging in a vanishing art while thanking them). They might even be pleasantly surprised that you turned out better than they feared you might!

Copyright (c) 2018, Dennis L. Peterson

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