Today is World Teachers' Day. The fact that A) I didn't know this, and I'm a teacher and 2) it's on a Saturday is so frustratingly appropriate that I can only shrug and laugh. I only found out because one of my other favorite writers/teachers wrote a great piece about his 3rd grade teacher. It's great, and you should go read it here.
It reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my fellow teachers not too long ago. We'd been discussing her son's 4th grade teacher, and I couldn't help but remember my own. Most of my elementary school career, I'd managed to fly under the radar. I suspect that teachers knew I was smart and they liked me because I followed rules and kept quiet, but I don't have much of a sense of who I was as a child then. Those memories are lost on me.
And then I landed in Bonnie Gooch's class.
I can remember so much about Mrs. Gooch's class. I could probably even draw it out on paper if I had too. She had the warmest smile, softest hands, and kindest voice I'd ever known. She was also the tallest woman I think I had ever met, and I found it abnormally fascinating that someone so physically imposing could be so gentle. Mrs. Gooch always read aloud to us in the afternoons, and there are certain books that when I hear them, I am transported back, head on my desk, warmed by the afternoon sun, soothed by her voice. Mrs. Gooch taught me about dividing fractions, basketball rebounds, and compound sentences. I think of her every time I teach my students about comma placement.
I think this was also the year we studied the plant cycle, growing beans in a cup. I can remember my excitement at the green shoot, sprouting, spreading its roots throughout the soil I'd transplanted it to. It was the first (and one of the only) things I've ever managed to grow. It didn't last long as I hadn't realized that it would need room to grow and spread, that its roots needed more to anchor in and feed from.
More than just what she taught me, however, was the way she taught me to carry myself. I was painfully shy and unconfident as a child, always struggling to please those around me. I happened to be in a grade full of remarkably athletic boys and beautiful girls, and I struggled even just to stay near the middle. When there are only 33 people in your grade, believe me, the middle does not contain a very wide margin for error.
If my earlier teachers had noticed any talent of mine, they never told me, and I had spent 4 years in school believing I had none. Mrs. Gooch not only noticed, she made sure I knew. She was a passionate competitor, and she encouraged this spirit in me as well. She recruited me for her UIL Picture Memory team, an event which required the study of 40 paintings, their artists, countries of origin, and some critique. I had never been exposed to such beautiful artwork (even in just print), and I marveled at how Mrs. Gooch could pronounce such difficult names and know so many things about places outside our small town city limits. I was 21 when I visited the Kimbell Museum here in Fort Worth for the Renoir exhibit. It was hot and crowded, but when I found myself nose to nose with a real-life Renoir, it was worth it. I got yelled at by a security guard for being too close, but I didn't care. When in my life would I be able to be so close to such history -- both that of the artist and my own?
Mrs. Gooch was also the first person to notice my love of writing. She challenged me to be on her Ready Writing team. It was difficult because I had grown up feeling like a child with no voice, with nothing of particular interest to say. I couldn't imagine why she would tell me that she needed me, but she did. We worked both in school and after, this little team of writers, racing the clock with only a pencil and our brains to arm us. I do not remember even one word that I put to paper that year, but the feel of it was exhilarating. I was only the alternate in that event, but it began my obsession with words. It began my journey as both a writer and writing teacher. It began my path to finding my own voice and then having the courage to use it. For that alone, I'll be forever grateful. It is a gift she had no idea she was giving.
I have been blessed by a lifetime of incredible educators, from elementary school all the way through college, and I continue to surround myself with some of the best in our field. From each of them, I have taken nourishment and knowledge; each of them has a special place within my soul. Other teachers along the way have nurtured what she planted, but Mrs. Gooch was the root.
Thank you for giving me room to grow.