Ms. Johnson was my third grade teacher.
I loved her so much.
I thought she was the prettiest, funniest, kindest person in the world.
When I was in third grade, things were rough in my house. My mom’s alcoholism was raging. (She got sober a year later. 😄🎉😘 and everything changed!!!) My dad was running for office. There were a lot of nervous secrets rummaging around in the basement of what appeared to be a very stable, middle class home.
I specifically remember on one occasion my trekking the 2 mile walk to school in a torrential downpour.
Tearing up and flustered, I was too embarrassed to explain that “my mommy wasn’t feeling well again so she couldn’t drive me.”
I will never forget Ms. Johnson taking me in her arms and hugging me so tight that I thought my tears would turn into rivers. She didn’t care that I was soaking wet…or late.
She just cared.
Over the course of my life I’ve known many teachers. I used to be one.
And I gotta tell you…that outside the immediate sphere of family and neighbors in a child’s life…it has been my experience that teachers are the most important people in their universe.
Yesterday I spent the day with 35 middle school teachers and principals…the majority of whom taught in schools where many…actually most…of the kids come to school hungry.
As we rounded through Red Boot Step One Together…I heard each teacher…one by one tell the heartbreaking AND beautiful stories of children in their classroom…the times they fed a child who was hungry…the tender and loving times they disciplined a child…reminding him or her that they mattered to the world and were needed…the special needs kids who hummed while they dusted and cleaned the library. “Learning occupational skills is important for the kids and I get to witness how good it feels for them to be useful…to matter.”
Right now as I write I think of my close friend Wendie Weiler Cummings…a band teacher at Ferguson Middle School…her undying commitment to adolescent youth in that fine community…youth who are demonized by a media and other outsiders who do not know them…her never ending dedication and love to them…her forever reminding them that they matter.
I shudder to think how my life might have been different if Ms. Johnson hadn’t held me in her arms…asked the teaching assistant to stay with that classroom…taken my hand and walked me to the teachers lounge…brought back dry clothes from the PTA closet and given me the whole morning to dry off, get still and feel oh so very special.
I shudder to think how my life would be different if it were not for the teachers who loved me then and when I was older struggling with my own demons.
People who know they are loved…grow up to love people.
Teachers must be some of the most loved people in the universe.