From Play-Doh to Pulitzer and all the teachers from there to here

OK, disclaimer here – I’ve never won a Pulitzer. I have, however, been part of a staff that was once considered for a Pulitzer. That’s still cool, right? It just made the headline sound better …

Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day and it took a Facebook shout out from my friend Kevin Fullerton to all of his teachers to make me realize that I’ve never really ever said “thank you” to all of the teachers who helped shape me into who I am today.

I grew up the daughter of a man who got bored easily, so we moved around. A lot. I went to two elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools, meeting different kinds of teachers and viewing different teaching styles along the way. I still remember a great many of those teachers and the important life lessons they taught me, well beyond the things that came out of the books we read and the worksheets we completed.

To those teachers I say, thank you. You will never know the impact you truly had.

* Mr. Bowman – my kindergarten teacher at Wilshire Park Elementary School in Minneapolis. One day you gave us all a piece of bubble gum and told us to chew it while we walked around the outer perimeter of the school lot, picking up colorful rocks, interesting leaves and funny looking twigs. We spread the gum out on a small piece of cardboard and arranged our “treasures” into a collage. Thank you for teaching me to appreciate the beauty in my surroundings.

* My second-grade teacher at Gladys Wood Elementary in Anchorage, Alaska. I don’t even remember your name because you were my teacher for a week before you went on a ski vacation in the mountains and were killed in an avalanche. I remember your long brown hair, your gentle smile and how you held my hand when you introduced me to the class. Thank you for teaching me to understand everyone has an impact in your life, regardless how short the duration.

* Mrs. Boring – my orchestra teacher at Gladys Wood, from second through seventh grade. You worked with Nellie, Carole, Jim and I tirelessly from the scratchy, ear-piercing shrills of the first time we drew our bows across our violas until you were confident we could play whatever we wanted. When my family moved from Anchorage to a small town in east central Missouri, you surprised me by securing an invitation for me to audition with the Kansas City Youth Philharmonic for their presentation of “The Messiah.” I didn’t go because I didn’t know anyone and was too shy, and still regret it to this day, 30 years later. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to choose my own direction and for giving me the first of what would become several “what if” moments.

*Mrs. Hoffman – a long-term substitute teacher for my fourth-grade class at Gladys Wood. One of the final assignments you had us do was a research paper on one of our favorite subjects that we then had to read to the class. I don’t remember the topic of my paper, but I do remember that when I’d finished reading it aloud and was returning to my seat you stopped me, bent over and whispered in my ear, “You should really consider a writing career.” Thank you for planting a seed that grew into a 20-year journalism career, the writing and publication of three books and now a new kind of writing.

* Mrs. Gorman – my typing/shorthand/business education teacher at East Buchanan High School in Gower, Mo. Everyone took your classes thinking they would be the “easy A” class and we were all surprised to not only enjoy the class and learn something about business, but to get to know each other, as well. Thank you for getting me out of my comfort zone and helping me to meet new people wherever I go.

* Mr. Cullen – my chemistry teacher at Carroll High School in Carroll, Iowa. I was horrible at chemistry, no matter how much you tried to help me – which was a lot. Rather than yell or get mad when I didn’t get something, you would continue working with me until you were confident I knew how to find the answer. Thank you for teaching me persistence.

* Laura Widmer – my college advisor, college instructor, and friend at Northwest Missouri State University. You taught me so much about journalism but just as much about enjoying whatever life throws at you. One of the first assignments you gave us in basic reporting was to take a quarter and give it to someone who was willing to talk to us (I think I remember that right). You taught me that every person has a story, something that makes them unique and interesting, and the key is finding the right questions to get that story out. There hasn’t been a day since I left Northwest that I haven’t used what you’ve taught me. Thank you.

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