Sunday, July 3, 2011

The teacher that changed my life....

For some odd reason, I woke up this morning thinking about past teachers. I don't often do that. Mainly because I've had so many.  We were a very poor family. My daddy, for whatever reason, moved us often. I remember one such move occurring in the middle of the night with only the clothes on my back. I cried for days because I had to leave all of my precious dollies.  I've tried to count how many elementary teachers I've had over the years. Honestly, I cannot even remember most of my elementary years. But from what I do remember, I had 13 different teachers in grades K - 6. I think the number is higher than that but I don't remember all of them from the real early years.

I was the at risk child. The free lunch child. The child with dirty hair that was not washed often enough. The child that often had an odor because she was not made to bathe every night.  The child who ate everything she could get her hands on because she wasn't sure there would be food at home. The child whose family was visited by child protective services a few times, but nothing was ever proven.  The child who often times got bullied and beat up just because she was shy and mousy. 

The few memories I have of past teachers were mostly unpleasant. I remember the "looks", the harsh words, the impatience.  But in 5th grade all of that changed. I was headed down the wrong path in record time.  I was tired of getting beat all the time and was beginning to turn hard-hearted and fight back.  I hung with an older, rougher crowd. My language was edgy, my manners crude and my attitude harsh. I wasn't going to take it anymore.  Then entered Mrs. Brown. One day someone brought a prism to school. I was awe struck by it and wanted it. So, I stole it. The next day Mrs. Brown confronted the class. She asked the guilty to party to please put it on her desk; no questions asked.  I struggled all day. Finally, after class when every one else left, I went back to the room and put it on her desk. She caught me. But instead of a harsh word, I got words that forever changed me:  "I am proud of you. It took a big person to admit they were wrong."  I broke down and cried. She hugged me.   That was a turning point in my life. She showed me things could be different.  She took me to church with her a few times.  I will NEVER forget Mrs. Brown.  Because of her, I was set on a different path.

A year later, still struggling to "be good", I was sent to a Salvation Army Camp for underprivileged children. It was at that camp my life was forever changed.  Mrs. Brown planted the seeds and the Salvation Army counselor reaped the harvest. For it was at the camp, the summer I turned 12 years old that I became a Christ follower.  I remember on the bus ride home being terrified of going back to the old crowd. I didn't know what I was going to do. When I got home, I was hit with the news: we were moving!  Within 3 days, God had us out of that place and in another state entirely; far away from "the bad crowd".  My life changed dramatically. We moved 3 more times in the next 6 years of my life. Each time was within walking distance of a church. So I was able to go to church and grow in faith.  Our family situation also changed. Daddy was deemed disabled and we had a steady, monthly income. I was actually able to stay at the same high school for those awkward high school years.

Mrs. Brown was the turning point in my life. She doesn't know it, but she helped shape the teacher I am becoming. For as most of us, I am a work in progress.  I fell asleep last night reading yet another "teacher book".  Always trying to improve, like most of you.  Over the years I have tried to be Mrs. Brown.  Unfortunately, I am sure I have been the harsh, impatient one as well. But I pray that someday, one(or more) of my students will be blogging about how   "Miss Thompson changed my life."  Daily my prayer is "Lord, help me be slow to anger, slow to speak, but quick to hear and quick to love."
Orange Street Elementary Schoo(it now houses the St. John's County BOE), St. Augustine, Florida.  Where I went to school in 5th grade.


  1. That was a beautiful post, Tonya. Have you thought about trying to look Mrs. Brown up?
    Finally in First

  2. Thanks Jenn. Yes, I have tried. But I do not remember her first name. She is most likely in her 70's now.

  3. What a wonderful post. It is amazing to think about the impact we have on our students that we may never know about.

  4. That was a very inspiring post! I sometimes wonder why things happen but I always remember that God has a plan for all of us. His plan for you was to make a difference to your students. I am sure you are making a difference in their lives just as Mrs. Brown made a difference in yours.

  5. It was so funny, just this evening I had mentioned I wanted to read your blog and you know what Blake said? He said of all the grades he wished he could to 4th grade again. He said one day he is going back to 4th grade just for kicks and sit through and listen to everything. He loved 4th grade. I didn't have to ask him why. You are a sweet gift to those children!! :)