I’m one of the lucky ones. My first day of kindergarten, I came home from school and notified my family that “When I grow up, I’m going to be a teacher.” Now, I know that is a common reaction to the first days and first years of school, as children don’t have much exposure to other careers, but I was certain.
When I reached junior high, I met my favorite teacher: a bright-eyed, red lipstick wearing, English teaching angel named Mrs. Zana Gorman. Immediately, my career path took a more deliberate course. I was not only going to be a teacher, but I was going to be an English teacher.
“That focus never changed, and twenty-eight years after meeting my favorite teacher, I still think of her every day. She could never know how many decisions of mine she has shaped.”
Having taught thousands of students over the past eighteen years, I feel overwhelmed knowing that at some point, I’ve been someone’s Mrs. Gorman. I have students express their gratitude to me on a nearly daily basis (because teenagers really are the loveliest human beings in the entire world), but I guess it’s hard for me to truly see the depth of a teacher’s impact. Words simply aren’t tangible.
This year, I saw that love first hand. Every child I teach is my “baby,” and many children jokingly refer to me as mama, but God only gave me two biological blessings. It was at my ten-year-old son’s end-of-the-year awards ceremony that I witnessed magic. Both of my children were fortunate enough to have Ms. Jacque Johnston for gifted studies at South Jones Elementary, and not surprisingly, due to Ms. Johnston’s uniqueness and magnetic personality, both my son and (now) junior high daughter fell in love with her. Over the past several years, many of our dinner table talks and car rides home from school have revolved around Ms. Johnston and her class, and I’ve always been grateful knowing my children had a strong and loving teacher.
This year, sadly, Ms. Johnston is retiring, and before we left the awards day ceremony, my children felt led to visit their favorite teacher one last time. As they talked, my son started to cry, saying how much he would miss his favorite teacher, questioning how he would manage two more years of gifted classes without her. My daughter reminisced how she electively skipped recess every day of her sixth-grade year to help Ms. Johnston prepare for lessons and organize her classroom. I admit I felt a bit of an outsider—realizing my children had developed an unbreakable bond with a woman I hardly knew—and I found myself missing Mrs. Gorman. I cried. I cried for myself, and I cried knowing my children were lucky: education had given them a gift I couldn’t.
Sure, education has its flaws, so does any career—that is a reflection of humanity, but unlike other vocations, educators are unfortunately faced with mob mentalities that insist on tearing apart goodness. Instead, however, maybe we should take time to appreciate the trees and quit focusing on the problems of the forest. Take glimpses into classrooms, into the hearts and eyes of children, and remember the good education offers. I cherish the opportunity to have seen my babies with their “Mrs. Gorman” because it reminded me that I’m not an island; so much good is happening in our schools, and we just need to be willing to see it.
Sarah Wansley, M.Ed., NBCT
English Department Chair,
South Jones High School,
William Carey University, Dual Credit