In the midst of the gruesome tragedy that befell Sandy Hook Elementary School I am drawn to the love and light so evident in the heroic, selflessness of the teachers who died serving those children. What a poignant reminder of what teachers do for us – they selflessly serve our children. They provide a safe haven, in spite of the fact that the world can be a very scary place. For in the classroom of a warm, loving teacher a child never knows such fear.
As I nervously scrolled through Facebook posts worrying that an image or message would send me into despair over the unfathomable loss our world has experienced, I stumbled upon an image of a teacher reading to her students. It instantly warmed my heart and took me back to a more innocent time of being read to by my kindergarten teacher, Judy Leach. Although these days I barely remember what I had for breakfast or the many items on my daily “to do list,” I vividly remember what it felt like to sit on the carpet amidst my classmates hearing Ms. Leach’s calming voice.
She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Of course I was only five and my world was fairly small, still Judy Leach had a place in it that was magical. As a nervous, shy kid, experiencing her warmth and kindness every day was a pleasure that I will never forget. More importantly, Ms. Leach gave me my first lesson in “rooting for the underdog,” which has proven to be an even more valuable gift.
Back before anti-bullying was even a thing I used to be frightened of the neighborhood jerk, Gerry. He was in sixth grade, and although I don’t really remember him bothering me directly, his cruelty and teasing of everyone else at our large bus stop plagued my sensitive soul.
One morning my Mom sent my sister Cheryl and I off to school with instructions that she might not be able to meet us at the bus stop. Although my sister was in fourth grade, and likely in her eyes well-equipped to take on the likes of Gerry, I wasn’t so sure. As such, I embraced the school day with a clock-watching eye, fearing the time when we would load onto the bus to make our way home. I was doing pretty well at hiding my nerves, but as we watched a filmstrip during library time my worried mind and belly started doing flip-flops. I found myself overwhelmed by nausea that forced me to ask the librarian if I could visit the school nurse. Once in her office I started to cry and experience dry heaves. The nurse, a warm woman who knew my Mom, managed to somehow get to the root of the problem. I spilled my guts (luckily only figuratively) and let her know that I was dreading a run-in with Gerry. She assured me that I would be safe and that the situation would be taken care of.
The details from there on out get a bit cloudy, as I am sure I was in full-on meltdown by that point. What I do remember however, is the gentle nature by which Ms. Leach calmly and lovingly took my hand and walked me to the bus with my classmates. After getting me and my best friends (Bethany and Susannah) situated in a seat right behind the bus driver, she promptly marched to the back of the bus where Gerry reigned supreme. Although I had never heard her raise her heavenly voice in quite that manner, she mustered the strength to do so by sternly and loudly informing Gerry that if he “ever upset one of her kindergarten students again he would have to report to her.” When I think of that moment, I am overwhelmed by the love and compassion she had for her students. Her conviction is something I know I hold within me. It is a place I go to when I muster the courage to speak my mind or fight on behalf of others.
In all of the recent tragedy, this memory brings to light for me how much we must value and honor those who care for our children, who serve us in our community, and who work for something other than a paycheck. Incidentally, I remember Ms. Leach worked part time on nights and weekends at the local hardware store, Benny’s. I loved getting to see her outside of school, but I always wondered why my teacher would have another job. As an adult, I now understand that our teachers are underpaid and overworked making the necessity of a second job painfully clear.
Teachers are the lights in our community. We all must support them, thank them, and love them. My sister Cheryl is now a teacher, as are many of my friends. They make me proud when I think of what they endure to instill strength in future generations. I hope that out of the recent tragedy a teacher’s true worth will become ever more apparent.
- Thank you Judy Leach for teaching me courage.
- Thank you Gail Groves for giving me confidence, and being a lifelong friend.
- Thank you Mr. Sweeney for showing me that expressing yourself is important.
- Thank you Mrs. Iverson for teaching me that intelligence is something to be valued.
- Thank you Brad Smith for sticking up for me.
- Thank you Mr. Piascik for making history memorable.
- Thank you Mr. Zybrowski for being an amazing Tennis Coach.
- Thank you Thomas Richard for sparking my interest in nutrition.
- Thank you Sharon Foley for supporting me during a difficult dietetic internship.
- Thank you Denise Romano for teaching me to speak my truth.
- Thank you Bud Stone for reminding me that what others think is none of my concern.
Please share your own memory or gratitude for a teacher who inspired you.