A Tribute to Mrs. Clay

On Sunday, I was honored to attend a milestone birthday party for my 4th grade teacher. That's right... the woman who taught me in fourth grade.

Mrs. Clay had a huge influence on my life and played a significant role in my decision to become a teacher.

What made Mrs. Clay so special? She made each student feel important. She got to know us and our families. She did fun projects. She read aloud back when teachers did not read aloud.

Mrs. Clay shared stories about her children and her life outside of school. She revealed herself to be fully human- more than "just a teacher" who kids think lives in the school.

She also played jump rope with us on the playground. I know this may seem trivial, but here's why it isn't. By playing with us, she showed us that our world- our nine year old interests- were important.

All of these things made me feel valued and appreciated.

One moment that particularly stands out for me is the day Mrs. Clay told me I would make a good teacher. Her confidence in me-to do a job that she did so well- propelled me that year. But, she also had the ability to offer gentle critique in a way that I could hear it, so that I could genuinely improve. Rather than tell me I was too bossy, she encouraged me to help other students find answers rather than simply tell them the answers.

When I found myself floundering for the right major in college, Mrs. Clay's words rang true: "You'd make a great teacher." And really, that was when I found a calling.

Not only did I become a teacher because of Mrs. Clay- I became a fourth grade teacher. And, the lessons I learned from Mrs. Clay were there, gently guiding me all the way.

Just yesterday, I met up with a young woman who went to the school where I taught. She told me I had been a big influence on her, even though I was never her teacher. And you know what she remembered most about me? That I was a real person to her. That I shared parts of my life and myself with the students in our school. That I treated them with respect as young people.

I told her she has Mrs. Clay to thank, because Mrs. Clay taught me to be that kind of teacher. One teacher really can make that big of an impact.

At Mrs. Clay's party, a guest offered a lovely toast in her honor. He ended by saying, "We all want to be like you when we grow up." Indeed we do.

Which teacher made a difference in your life? Have you told him or her? If not, I hope you will. In the internet age, it's easier than ever to find people, even if 30 years or more have passed.