Jan 11, 2019 2019-01-11
By Randi House
I can remember the feeling of dread resting heavy in my stomach as I sat in my first grade classroom. I remember the taste of the green medicine I had to take to combat the ulcers I developed from stress and the overwhelming feeling of not being good enough. I remember crying at home and not wanting to go to school, and lying in bed at night completely consumed with anxiety and fear. I remember my teacher lying to my parents and the principal about me and feeling completely helpless. I remember having no friends and feeling like a failure. I remember the power that first grade teacher held over me—shaping me into a nervous, anxious child who took absolutely no risks and focused solely on being perfect. Yet no matter how hard I tried, I never was. If you asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up as I finished first grade, I never would have said teacher. I didn’t think very highly of teachers at that point.
However, I also remember entering my second grade classroom and feeling warmth. I remember my teacher welcoming me with a smile and a song. I remember her talking with my parents to learn more about me. I remember how she invited my dad to school for an art lesson and the pride I felt in that moment. I remember how we cooked every Friday in that classroom and how delighted I was of the cookbook we created that now sits on my kitchen shelf. I remember feeling confused about why my teacher chose me to pose with our completed papier-mâché dinosaur when the newspaper came to write a story about our project. Yet that photo, now yellowed and worn, still makes me smile. I remember making my first friend and performing The Loco-Motion with her for our class talent show. I remember how my teacher called me to her desk one day and shared a secret with me. She shared how she knew I was having trouble sleeping at night and that she was once like me. I remember how that feeling of validation was overwhelming. She went on to share a special prayer that she said made her feel safe at night—the same prayer I have spoken every single night for the past 30 years. I remember thinking my teacher was the most incredible person in the whole world and how I could not wait to get to school each day. I remember wanting to be a teacher when I grew up.
Throughout this past year I have been asked why I became a teacher and, at first, I really didn’t have an answer. Yet as I began to tell my story and share my experiences as a student, my “why” began to surface. Teachers are powerful—more powerful than they often realize. My first grade teacher was powerful enough to completely change my personality and turn me into a nonfunctioning shell of a child. Her power reached beyond those school walls and completely broke me down. Thankfully, the power of my second grade teacher slowly and meticulously repaired the damage done the year before. My second grade teacher made an effort to get to know me and learn my story. She took time throughout the year to encourage me, challenge me, and build me back up. Her investment in me lasted well beyond that year. The secret prayer she shared with me has gotten me through my toughest nights and provided me comfort as I lived away from home in college. Her influence has found its way into my own classroom three decades later as I find myself modeling lessons after her. All these years later, her influence led to my own accomplishment of becoming Arkansas teacher of the year.
My first and second grade teachers both left a lasting impact that shaped who I am as a person and educator. It’s easy to forget that what we say and do inside our classrooms impact the children sitting in the room with us. This past year I had a former student return to show me a paper she had written about one sentence I said to her during her kindergarten year. One sentence that I don’t even remember saying. Yet that one sentence resonated with that student enough that five years later she chose to write an essay about it. It’s both exhilarating and terrifying to think that something as small as one sentence can have an impact like that. For me, it only took one teacher in one year to completely destroy me, and it only took one teacher in one year to repair that damage and build me back up. As educators, it’s essential to be mindful of our power and influence. We must consciously choose to empower our students and be a voice of encouragement and positivity. You might just be that one teacher that a student needs to find his or her true self.
Randi is currently serving as the 2018 Arkansas Teacher of the Year. She is a National Board-Certified teacher with 15 years of experience. She teaches kindergarten for Conway Public Schools and has taught first grade and prekindergarten previously. She holds a BSE in Early Childhood Education, MSE in Reading, and is currently pursuing an EdD in Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment. Randi recently attended the NSTOY Teacher Leadership Academy and serves as an educational consultant for MacMillan Publishing. Follow Randi on Twitter @2018ATOY.Randi House, NBCT
Feb 15, 2019 at 8:58:50 am
Thank you for sharing this story! It's a good reminder that words are powerful, and I want mine to lift up a child (never tear them down).
Jan 12, 2019 at 11:32:11 am
Love this, Randi! Our words and actions have profound effects and we have to wield that power carefully!