My thank-a-teacher story

At Teach Away, there are a couple of mantras we all share: every child deserves to experience the power of a great teacher and that we all remember that one teacher who made the biggest difference.

Countless times over the past decade, I’ve told stories from my fourth grade experience with the teacher who made the biggest difference in my life. But not once had I reached out to her to say thank you and to share some of the stories I hold so dearly - until today.

It being Teacher Appreciation Week and working here at Teach Away, making my long-delayed #ThankATeacher phone call only seemed right.

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Here are some of the stories and lessons I shared with my 2000-2001 fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Gloria Shabbits of McGirr Elementary School while we were on the phone today:

She taught me that an earning an “A” meant going above and beyond expectations.

It’s not uncommon for teachers to require students to “exceed expectations” in order to earn the top grade. When Mrs. Shabbits said it, though, she really meant it. Not only did she require you to exceed the assignment’s expectations, she wanted you to blow them out of the water - and most importantly, she wanted individual students to improve every week.

The best example I can recall were our monthly book reports, for which there was a template available. However, our class quickly discovered that completing the stock book report package wasn’t enough to earn an "A" in Mrs. Shabbits’ eyes... As a result, our submissions evolved - becoming more elaborate and intricate month over month. One month, I remember dragging both a poster board display and a shoebox diorama to the classroom.

She taught me that plagiarism is wrong - even if you’re only nine years old.

I wrote a report on wolves. I definitely copied too many bits word-for-word from the library reference I was using. I had to go to an after-school meeting with my mom. I never plagiarized again.

She taught me the phrase, verbal diarrhea.

This is what Mrs. Shabbits called it when a student would blab too much in class. I was nine years old, the word diarrhea was funny to me. I learned that getting in a little bit of trouble in class didn’t mean the end of the world and that humor can be a powerful tool when it comes to effective communication

She taught me that properly formatted notes go a long way in staying organized while you learn.

Mrs. Shabbits was the only teacher I ever had who insisted that all of her students write almost solely in cursive writing and adhere to strict formatting guidelines - two red underlines (with a ruler) for titles and one for subtitles.

This went a long way for me. Even when I transferred to 100% digital note-taking for part of my undergrad, clean notes with properly formatted titles and subtitles were top of mind.

She was willing to do more for her students than any other teacher, including throwing an awesome pool party.

At the end of every school year, Mrs. Shabbits’ grade four class would make the rest of the school jealous. All of her students would pile into a school bus bound for Mrs. Shabbits’ house, where she would host a blast of a year-end pool party in her own backyard.

One lucky student, selected at random, would get to ride alongside Mrs. Shabbits in her little red convertible enroute to the party. In my year, it happened to be me, and for that, I am forever grateful!


When I called Mrs. Shabbits today, she was thrilled to hear the things I remembered. I could tell it meant a lot to her to know how significant of an impact she had on me.

I shared my memories of my time in her class with her and let her know what I’ve been up to over the past 16 years. Mrs. Shabbits is now retired, has six grandchildren and spends as much time as she can exploring countries abroad with her husband on their bicycles (she suggests traveling by bike because you can eat and drink as much as you want and said I’m more than welcome to call her if I ever want to do some bike trip planning).

 

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