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Teachers Make A Difference

Having been a teacher of both children and adults for over fifty years, my mind can easily wander back to the classrooms of my past.

One year I had my fifth graders conduct science experiments on potatoes in order to learn what plants needed to grow. Exposing the potatoes to varying conditions, the potatoes that were provided a warm environment, not too hot and not too cold, plenty of sunlight, water, and eventually fertile soil, grew into healthy green plants. Those without the necessary environment and resources did not.

All the potatoes had potential, but only those given proper attention and care were able to thrive.

This happens with people too.

Growing up, I was one of the ‘lucky potatoes’, nourished by a multitude of people in a well-tended garden of love.

Mrs. Hodes, my fourth grade teacher, was one of these people. Her encouragement and belief in me provided months of sunshine and fertile soil that enhanced my development.

Before I entered fourth grade, I was a shy and serious little girl. In kindergarten, I missed the comfort of home. During first grade, my bout with scarlet fever forced me to miss weeks of school. My second grade teacher, Miss Bradley, was a frown-faced woman whose disciplinary measures caused me and my classmates to droop in shame. My third grade teacher, Miss Warriner, was kind enough, but after my second grade experience, I decided it was best to stay quiet. Afraid to break any rules, I focused on getting good grades.

My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Hodes, changed all that.

Dark-haired, brown-eyed, close in age to my mom, she was spunky with an appealing sense of humor. Her warmth melted tension.

After the first quarter, she wrote on my report card, “Barbara is a steady, careful worker. She is very mature and is reliable and cooperative.”

She didn’t mention how quiet and serious I was, but she must have noticed. She invited my mom, sister, brother and me to her house one weekend for lunch. (In those days, teachers were allowed to do such things.)

I’m not sure what she and Mom talked about while my sister, brother, and I played with her two daughters, but soon after our visit, Mom signed me up for violin lessons. To be honest, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed them. Sometimes I pretended to be sick when it was time to see the teacher because I hadn’t practiced like I should.

Mrs. Hodes class, on the other hand, was something I looked forward to. She smiled a lot and made learning fun. She told us that there was “no such thing as a foolish question.”

Whenever she read a story out loud my imagination swept me away. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was a virtual reality experience for me. In my mind, I was the brave character, Lucy, wandering the land of Narnia, and Aslan, the mighty lion, was my friend.

During the second quarter of fourth grade, Mrs. Hodes had our class perform choral poetry for our parents. Reading poems out loud, all of us made an effort to stay in unison. My voice shook a little, but I did my best to sound as good as Mrs. Hodes, especially when reading the “The Owl and The Pussycat,” one of my favorites.

Violin lessons led to performing in front of other people too. After several weeks of lessons, I played on stage in a high school auditorium with the rest of my instructor’s young pupils. Not having mastered the craft, I forgot the notes and had to improvise. Despite my flat and screechy performance, the audience clapped. Imperfection had not turned out to be fatal.

As the weeks went by in Mrs. Hodes classroom, I made new friends and sometimes dared to talk to the kids who sat in the desks next to me, even though I was supposed to be listening to the teacher. 

Mrs. Hodes wrote on my third quarter report card, “Barbara is doing outstanding work. She is more ‘outgoing’ too and it’s difficult to explain why I can accept her ‘naughtiness.’ I’m glad to see her out of her shell at times.”

At the end of the year, my class presented “The Patriotic Teddy Bear” for all the students and families. Mrs. Hodes must have felt I was ready to take another step forward. She cast me as the main character and the narrator of the show.

A freckle-faced teddy bear dressed in red, white and blue, I stood front and center on the grade school gymnasium stage and introduced my classmates dressed in traditional costumes from all around the world. Each said a few lines while I filled in the rest with words I’d memorized. At the end of the program, I relished the applause.

I left Mrs. Hodes’ class a different young girl than the one who entered and my progress continued thanks to the many teachers who followed. I had many good junior high and high school teachers. Prior T. Smith and Mr. Koenig instilled my love of math and taught me skills I use in everyday life. Mrs. Laffey and Mr. Martin taught me the importance of history and world events. Mr. Pichotta taught me that boys weren't the only ones who could understand physics. Thanks to Miss Reek, I know how to polka and can still dribble a basketball and as for Mr. Marshall, he opened up my world when he taught me how to drive.

Mrs. Feldman, my senior year high school English teacher, was important too. Not much older than her students, probably in her early twenties. she was pretty and petite with short dark hair and sparkling hazel eyes. I suspect many of the boys in my class had a crush on her.

Like Mrs. Hodes, she encouraged her students to step out of their comfort zone. She introduced us to the works of Shakespeare and other famous authors. She had us write essays on a variety of topics and she required us to stand up in front of the class and give different kinds of speeches. For my persuasive speech, Mom suggested I sell the importance of a smile because, by then, smiling was a natural part of me.

After I retired, I tried to find Mrs. Hodes so I could thank her for all she had done for me, but had no luck. Her first name had not been included on my report card and my internet search had been in vain. I think she would be almost 100 years old if she were alive today. I know how to reach Mrs. Feldman via the internet so I hope she will have a chance to read this story.

Reflecting on my past continues to influence me in the present.The human brain, a remarkable organ, takes information and links it to all sorts of seemingly unrelated items in order to create new associations. This ability continues to delight me. My random memory of a classroom experiment somehow led to renewed appreciation of good teachers, not just classroom teachers, but all the people I’ve known throughout my life who have nurtured, nudged, and helped me continue to grow. They help satisfy my thirst for knowledge and provide the kind of sunshine I need.

Can you think of a teacher who made a positive difference in your life?




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Dear Barbara,

Your childhood memories and names of teachers way back when simply amazed me. Being forthright about who you were and now sharing with each of us your insights made me wish I could remember mine. Guess we moved to often and like you I was shy, but never experienced memories from school days that I could share so beautifully. Thank you!

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Thanks, Susan. My mother saved all my report cards and that helped a lot, especially the comments made by Mrs. Hodes. I remember memorable moments and people and was delighted to hear from Mrs. Feldman. She said the story brought her to tears and meant so much to her since she had been young and was worried about doing a good job for her students.

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Barbara, this is absolutely magnificent. You truly captured the essence of the impact of good teachers and good friends who contribute to the people we become. Thank you for being a dear friend who has taught me so much about life. You are a mentor to all, my dear Soul Sister.

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Thanks so much Kris, It means a lot coming from you, a wonderful teacher and good friend!

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I love that Bill commented on this.

Yes, I too have taught both children and adults ever since my early 20s and including my own 3 children and 12 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren. I find myself teaching Zentangle® classes to my fellow seniors in Independent Living here in Madison. Sharing what you do well is a huge gift. I thank all my former teachers whom I "see" in my mind's eye but have forgotten their names. My high school creative writing teacher encouraged me to continue writing and I have. Thanks for sending me this blog. And for sharing your talents with everyone for all these years.

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Two "teachers" who made a real difference for me were not traditional educators, but rather wonderful women who lived their lives teaching by example. When I was 19 and raising my first child, I had the privilege of being a caretaker for two elderly ladies during the summer months. Unfortunately I had been taught that it was only the young who were valued, and that growing old meant all things negative. These two beautiful women, Mrs. Hutton and her sister, Mrs. Hunter, changed all of that. Each day I would load my son into his carseat and take Mmes. H & H to town so they could socialize with their summer friends in various shops around town. We'd go out…

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Linda, I love hearing your story. I received negative ideas about aging when I was young too. Luckily, my mom and grandma taught me something different and I have found good role models since. I just turned 77 and like you, I plan to make the most of it!

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My cohort and I were very lucky potatoes to have had such a wonderful and nurturing teacher mentor us throughout our practica and student teaching at Lowell! You made me love teaching and demonstrated daily all the good we could do for our students. Thank you!!

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Thank you so much. I'm so glad you became a teacher. Your students are lucky to have you!

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