As we’ve headed back to school in 2017, I have found myself once again grateful for teachers. If you are like me and had a few weeks of uninterrupted time with all your children during the holidays, you may be feeling equally in awe that these selfless warriors manage to not only wrangle and protect our children day in and day out, but also educate and inspire them, all without losing their minds. My own mother was a teacher for many years in a challenging school, mostly populated with students on a free or reduced lunch and many without a two-parent (or sometimes any parent) household. She was a dedicated fourth-grade social studies teacher for many years, then moved down to third grade, and eventually became a full-time science specialist that rotated through every grade level. She constantly sought out new methods, new tools, new ways to become the very best teacher she could be. In the small town where she lived, she would often run into students who had grown up and gone on to have their own kids, and many of them remembered her as a fun teacher who made them work hard.
Now that my mother has retired from full-time teaching, she looks back fondly on the many friends that she made through teaching and how her own family grew up as the years passed at her same school. She recently shared a story with me that I had never heard before about what led her to pursue that path. Although I have heard many stories of teachers who made a big impact on their students’ lives, my mother surprisingly told me that my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Carolyn Kelso, changed HER life.
After moving from Wyoming to Texas before I was born, my mother had jobs here and there but was already busy raising my two older sisters. When I was born, she certainly had her hands full but realized (like many moms of today) that the expense of paying for three children to be in daycare would outweigh the income she might get from working full-time. My father was trying to grow his business, so she stayed home with us until we each started school. As the youngest, I was sad when my sisters left me behind all day, so my mother had her own version of school at home and had me reading by the time I was four. She was a wonderful support for the three of us and often volunteered at our elementary school. Teachers knew they could count on her to be available for projects behind the scenes or events that needed extra hands.
According to my mother, it was on one of those days that Mrs. Kelso made a casual comment, probably unaware that it would mean so much to her. She told her, “Wanda, you would make a great teacher. You should be getting paid to do all this!” My mother said it was so encouraging to have someone that she liked and respected see that kind of talent in her. It was not long after that my mother, at 32 years old, decided to go back to college and get her teaching degree. She graduated in three-and-a-half years by testing out of every class she could and maximizing her time every semester. My father was so proud of the example she set for us girls and the lesson she imparted: that it is never too late to find a new dream.
All those evenings and weekends and summers spent in classes paid off, and my mother began her first year of teaching fourth grade when I also happened to be in fourth grade. Like one of my older sisters, I was lucky enough to have Mrs. Kelso as my teacher. I imagine that she was very proud to see that my mother was now part of the same tribe she was, dedicated to inspiring and loving on fourth graders every day. I remember Mrs. Kelso much like my own mother: firm but fun. She allowed me to read and do a book report on Huckleberry Finn, never telling me that a nine-year-old shouldn’t tackle such heavy material.
Sadly, Mrs. Kelso was diagnosed with cancer later in that school year and passed away on May 23, 1992. My entire class attended her funeral, and we were devastated to lose someone so kind and caring. At that time, I didn’t know how much Mrs. Kelso had impacted my family’s lives. My mother would continue teaching for more than 25 years. She would make lifelong friends, have a stimulating and challenging job that she loved, and have a steady source of income when my father passed away unexpectedly. Becoming a teacher was a massive turning point in my mother’s life, and she will always be grateful for the insightful words from Mrs. Kelso.
In honor of her, I want to challenge us as mothers to deliberately look for ways to encourage and nurture the gifts we see in others. Do you know someone who is curious about pursuing a new passion but may be doubting his/her abilities? Do you have a friend who has plenty of talent but just needs a push from a loving supporter? Speak up! Don’t miss the next opportunity to brag on those people, to encourage them, to build up their spirits with positive words. You never know if you could help them find the path they were meant for.