My parents divorced when I was in elementary school. My sister and I became those kids who spent the week living with our mom and going to school, then spending the weekend with our dad. (I chronicled the time of how the divorce affected my mom, about her alcoholism, her recovery, her diagnosis of cancer of the larynx in my memoir called "Finding Mother's Voice". Mother, in all honestly, was a much better writer than I could ever hope to be, so when I got the chance to put some of her own writings in a story that deals with parenting a parent, what it's like to live without a mother who had been my greatest fan all my life, I jumped at the chance).
This blog is about what I remember the most about 5th grade, despite all that divorce and custody mess. Claudia Edgerton was my 5th grade teacher. I couldn't tell you how old she was (pretty young, I think) or how long she had been teaching, but I can tell you how she made me feel. Every weekend, we'd go out to dinner or to the movies with Daddy (I remember going to see "Jaws" and Woody Allen movies and thinking I should maybe not be watching these movies) or to his apartment. On Monday morning, it seems there would always be a note written on Mrs. Edgerton's stationery on my desk.
The notes would say something like "I hope you had a great weekend with your dad. I love having you in class." In one, she said I was "wise", and I thought I would cry. In fact, I likely did, as life was a bit emotional at the time. My best friend's dad died that year, and I know Mrs. Edgerton was there for Tricia as well. Wise? I felt clumsy and different, not "wise". I knew I was a good reader; in fact, books transformed my life events to another place, one in which I didn't have to think about things like alcoholism or divorce. When I am asked what my favorite book is, I don't hesitate before saying, "Where the Red Fern Grows" by Wilson Rawls. Claudia Edgerton read to us every day right after lunch for a few minutes, and I remember almost every line of that book (not just from her reading it aloud, but because it is likely the only book I have ever read multiple times---I think I read it at least 10 times---I still have the same paperback with tear-stained pages). I remember getting to go to a special math group each week with four other kids, as well, where we did "harder math" or worked on turning kids' books into felt-board stories for the younger grades, but, as special as that was, I missed being with Mrs. Edgerton during those times.
Why? Three reasons that I believe all teachers should do or be for every student:
1. She made me feel special.
As evidenced by the notes she wrote, the hugs she gave and the true sincerity in her voice when she asked about my weekend, I knew she cared.
2. She loved what she did.
I would be lying if I said I remembered all the academics we did in 5th grade, but what I do remember is the passion Mrs. Edgerton had for everything she taught, read and did.
3. It mattered to her what kind of people we would turn out to be.
The things she said to me, and I suspect to many of us, indicated that she didn't just care about us as 5th graders. She wanted us to be empathetic. She actually told me I should use empathy (I used S. Covey's words "Seek first to understand, then to be understood" when I became a principal) when I was upset when Mrs. Edgerton's student teacher moved me away from my best friend in an effort to try to "make the class her own". I still have that note.
A few years ago, during Teacher Appreciation Week, I looked up Claudia Edgerton, found her address and sent her a letter telling her what she had meant to me. Lo and behold (no, it shouldn't have come as a surprise, actually), she wrote me back. She told me she remembered me and she was proud of the educator I have become. We are now friends on Facebook and I am someday going to take a moment to go see her again in person.
Charlotte Danielson says that we, as educators, must get the climate of respect and rapport and the classroom environment right before we can do anything else in teaching. Claudia Edgerton is my example of why I believe in this truth so whole-heartedly.
Just for today, think about the educator who has had the most impact on your life and share that with me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or on my blog. Our stories matter!