Breaking Barriers


Marjorie is a member of my writing group who is bursting with powerful, personal stories. This petite blonde is a force. I was eager to hear her story about Coach Carlson, the eighth-grade civics teacher who inspired her to rise above stereotypes and cultural norms.

When I was growing up, I listened to strong female voices, like Gloria Steinem and Helen Gurley Brown. They had a powerful impact, but the greatest influences on my path to transcend gender norms were two men. My father always said that I could be anything I wanted to be. Coach Carlson echoed that sentiment, and his actions in the classroom reinforced his beliefs. He created engaging projects which forced me to think critically. From debating controversial topics to designing a model community, I was  encouraged to use my voice.

Coach Carlson chose me to be the defense attorney in a mock trial. I meticulously planned my argument and prepared my evidence. I felt a responsibility to fight for my client and to fight for justice. I lost the case, but that experience ignited a passion for law. In 1966, it wasn’t typical for a girl to aspire to be a lawyer. However, I was determined.

I had the confidence to persist in law school because of the influence of teachers like Coach Carlson. I grew confident in my ability to make persuasive arguments and introduce exhibits as support. I found my voice in that rural, Michigan classroom, and that experience fueled a long career as a sole practitioner. I am proud that 52 years after that eighth-grade mock trial, I am still passionate about fighting for the underdog. I am proud to be a model and an advocate for women as I continue to prove that gender is unrelated to ability.

Marjorie’s story reminded me that teacher actions speak louder than words. Planning engaging lessons which facilitate critical thinking sends a potent message: You may be young, small and female, but that in no way diminishes your power. Coach Carlson gave Marjorie the chance to discover her own voice and learn how to use it. When did a teacher help you learn to use your voice? Share in the comments below.

Wishing you an endless supply of chalk and chances-


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