A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker
A TEACHER'S INFLUENCE
This isn't a newspaper column; it's a love letter.
And not to my wife. I don't write love letters to Anita very often.
She has to proof-read this column every week-I figure that's enough of my prose for anyone to have to endure. Besides, I'm not exactly sure how to spell "snookie-ookums" ("snuky-ukums"? "snokey-okoms?"), and I'm afraid it may fry my spell-check program if I even try.
The fact is, this love letter is to another woman-a woman my 18-year-old daughter refers to as "Mom." And yes, Anita knows all about it. Heck, it was her suggestion that I write.
Now, before you start worrying that I'm being cross-channeled by Jerry Springer or something, I need to assure you that this isn't that kind of love letter. It's about the love of a teacher for her profession, for her area of expertise and mostly, for her students.
When Andrea started her high school career three years ago, we were excited that she was going to be working with Miss J. Andrea was born with music in her soul, and we had heard wonderful things about Miss J's music program. Her choirs were first rate, and many of her students had gone on to college with music scholarships. We looked forward to seeing how Andrea would grow musically under her direction.
We haven't been disappointed in that regard. Andrea has had some exciting musical opportunities during the past three years, and her musicianship has expanded noticeably. She has gained a broad appreciation for all kinds of music, and has learned the hard work and discipline that must precede musical excellence. The other day Andrea stood before a church congregation and calmly, confidently sang a solo, her sweet voice filling the chapel despite a sore throat that made it difficult for her to talk, much less sing. I found myself expressing silent thanks to Miss J for having given my daughter the tools she needed to deal with a difficult situation so successfully.
But more than just technical skills, Miss J has trained Andrea in life and living. She has been there when Andrea needed someone to talk to- someone other than a parent or peer. She has seen Andrea through crises large and small, from health issues to academic issues to social issues (she has even helped Andrea come to terms with being "boyfriend-challenged"). Sometimes she has just been there to listen and to comfort; at other times, she has been there with input and counsel. She hasn't always told Andrea what she wanted to hear, but she has always been honest, supportive and loving.
That's been the hallmark of Miss J's involvement in Andrea's life: loving. She loves teaching, loves music and loves Andrea and the rest of her students-not necessarily in that order. Miss J filled her classroom and the concert hall with that love, and Andrea and her classmates have been captivated by it. Because Miss J cared so much and so powerfully, Andrea cared. As a result, Andrea has learned and grown, both musically and personally. And as she prepares to graduate from high school this week, she is much better prepared for college-and for life.
Of course, Andrea has had other fine teachers. But once in a while you come across a teacher who is truly extraordinary, and whose influence extends through the years to future generations. I was touched by a teacher like that-a drama teacher we called Mr. B, whose imprint can be seen even now in my life. I am grateful beyond words that my daughter has had that same experience.
Oh, and I'm also grateful she only had it once. Otherwise, I'd have more love letters to write.
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--- © Joseph Walker
Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com