I call myself a teacher, researcher and story collector. Collecting others’ stories has allowed me to reflect on my own school experiences; so I decided it was time to share my story. I have been blessed with many impactful teachers, but Mrs. Russell had an undeniable impact during two distinct periods of my life.
On a sunny morning in September 1975, I stood outside a big, blue door feeling anxious and intimidated. I was a struggling reader about to enter first grade. Despite the best efforts of three highly skilled educators, my mother, grandmother and kindergarten teacher, letters seemed to jump around the page whenever I tried to read. I just knew I wasn’t ready for first grade.
I reluctantly pushed open that big, blue door and was warmly greeted by Mrs. Russell. She had long, straight brown hair and wore a groovy bell bottom pantsuit. She bent down to reassure me that I was in the right place, and her calm demeanor put me at ease. With Mrs. Russell’s multi-sensory approach and endless patience, I grew leaps and bounds in both confidence and competence. By the end of first grade, I was a reader.
On a sunny morning in September 2012, I stood outside another big, blue door feeling that same sense of anxiety. I had just been appointed principal of an elementary school, and I was preparing to meet my faculty. I pushed open the door and stood in front of the teachers. I immediately recognized a familiar, smiling face. Her hair was now short and gray, and she no longer wore a bell bottom pantsuit, but Mrs. Russell’s calm demeanor hadn’t changed.
I was privileged to observe this master teacher from a new perspective. Every time I walked in her classroom, I felt like that same first grader, in awe of Mrs. Russell’s grace, kindness and expertise. I spent the next three years watching her assess students’ needs and skillfully respond to those needs. I sat on the carpet next to her students while she read to them. I watched those students grow in confidence and competence, just like I had under Mrs. Russell’s care.
I realize I was given a rare and wonderful opportunity, to spend a few years reconnecting with a teacher who made such a difference in my life. Mrs. Russell has since retired, but her impact continues. We are all better people for having been her students. Have you reconnected with a favorite teacher? Share in the comments below.
Wishing you an endless supply of chalk and chances-
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