Not long ago I began a project of finding personal stories about people whose lives were positively influenced by a teacher who offered life-changing encouragement. I’m motivated by this type of story, whether it’s a teacher, a neighbor, a mother-in-law, or a stranger. I was asked by someone if I had my own teacher story. I said no. It certainly wasn’t a statement about teachers I’ve had throughout the years, but rather how I had focused on other encouragers in my life.
But just as serendipity works itself out, I had lunch with an aunt who shared a little treasure with me. Unaware of my project, she pulled out of her purse a piece of paper that she’s held on to for years. I’m not sure how it ended up in her possession. The yellowed piece of paper had a few scribbles I made as a kindergartner—an attempt at spelling my name, which for a young one was no easy task considering that I have a first name that many adults cannot spell correctly, much less pronounce.
Along with my name were a few other words and scribbles that looked like my attempt at cursive writing. The teacher wrote, “This is very good work. If you do this every day at school then you will be an excellent student. Study as much as you can.”
Honestly, I don’t recall my kindergarten teacher’s face or name, but I do remember how safe and welcoming kindergarten felt. As an adult looking at this piece of paper, I have some insight that I could only have today about how important her words and nurturing classroom atmosphere were.
I had just lost my mother when I entered kindergarten. Life at that time was fractured, leaving both sides of my family silently broken for many years to follow. It is a rare family that is emotionally equipped for the loss of a 22-year-old wife and mother of three. We kept marching forward as a way to cope, I imagine; we did not talk about my mother’s death, nor did we talk about her life. And I remember that time as the beginning of a lifelong struggle I have of expecting the other shoe to drop or, probably more accurately, the next person to leave.
School became my escape; I dreaded summer and holiday breaks. I just wish I could say that made me a stellar student, but that wasn’t the case. I was a very average student who developed a deep love of reading and writing (and, unfortunately, developed a dislike for anything to do with numbers). I believe getting lost in books and stories of my own gave me a positive way to navigate through my grief during the years that followed. And it certainly has been the filter I use to view the world today.
So after all these years I want to say thank you to that teacher for a nurturing classroom and the words she took time to write. Wish I could hug your neck today. I’ve been blessed with a lot of encouragers in my life—friends, neighbors, family members. And that’s what the Encouragement Factor project is all about–recognizing those who’ve come alongside us and made a difference in our lives with constructive guidance, mentoring, or simply faded words of support written on a piece of paper long ago that helped to shape the course of our lives. Speaking gratitude for what these people have done encourages others to do the same.
I’ve shared my story. Now will you? If you want to share about a special person–it doesn’t have to be a teacher–who had an impact on your life, email me your story at email@example.com. Put Encouragement Factor in the subject line and include your contact information.
Taprina Milburn’s family column, For Sanity’s Sake, is published in Mature Focus magazine. She is the author of two books, Scientists Use Rats, I Use My Family and We’re Not Being Raised Right: And Other Ego-Building Things My Kids Say. Both books are available on amazon.com.