Humanity has always had teachers. Those who pass on wisdom to the younger generation, help them grow, flourish and challenge the world around them. Teachers are not only important, they are necessary and in the United States almost 95% of the teachers in our schools are women. That is an astounding majority and one that speaks volumes to the power that women have to shape the future. Unfortunately, teachers are often not recognized in the way they should be. Too often, the focus lies on the negative or unrealistic expectations that surround education.
In my life I have had the great privilege of being taught by some amazing and powerful women who have subsequently encouraged, motivated, and molded me into the woman I have become. If it were not for their support I don’t know if I would have been able to continue my educational career through a Master’s degree, and although I wasn’t always the best student, the lessons I learned from these women have always stuck with me.
The first grade is always tough, it was the first time I had to spend five consecutive days in school for seven hours each day. For any little kid, this is tough, not only because you’re away from home but also because learning in a traditional environment can be intimidating. My teacher Mrs. Gayle was funny, engaging, and kind – everything you want from a primary education teacher. What Mrs. Gayle gave me in her lessons was not education in the sense of ABC’s and 1,2,3’s. No, she gave me confidence not only in my abilities but socially as well.
I can vividly remember first grade reading circles, where all the kids gathered and read aloud to each other. It was a way for us to not only practice our skills as readers but also for us to gain confidence in speaking in front of others. I always felt nervous about reading, always scared I would trip over words or mispronounce something, but the day we read Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the day I learned how to be confident in myself.
Mrs. Gayle said to the entire class, ‘I think Colleen should read the part of Snow White today’. All the kids began to grumble because they wanted to read that part – it was the main character after all. I was immediately nervous. Not only was there a lot to read but now the pressure that all the students would be watching and waiting to prove they would be a better Snow White — it was almost too much to handle. Sensing my nerves, Mrs. Gayle came to me and quietly said; ‘ I chose you to read the part because you’re a beautiful, intelligent raven haired girl, just like Snow White’.
Upon hearing that I was special my confidence soared. I read my little heart out that day and damn, I killed the part of Snow White! From them on, I have always been eager to read out loud, share my ideas and be a leader. All because of a first grade reading circle. And I know I’m not the only one who got this kind of attention from Mrs. Gayle. I heard her numerous times giving accolades to other students who were nervous, or making games out of learning when someone was stumbling over a problem just so that they would feel more comfortable.
In first grade I learned the valuable lesson that everyone learns differently and that those differences can only enhance an educational experience. Although there have been moments in my life when I feel less than or like I just can’t do it anymore, I think back to that reading circle and remember that I am a beautiful, intelligent raven haired girl, just like Snow White.
Happy National Teacher’s Day – May 10, 2016 and thank you to all the other teachers who have shaped my life’s trajectory!