All over the United States, classrooms are adorned with brightly colored bulletin boards, gym floors are freshly waxed, and buses are humming in a garage ready to whisk young minds into a new school year.
My mom is a first grade teacher in Pulaski, a quiet town tucked away in the mountains of Virginia. Like her mother before her, she welcomes these timid and inquisitive little friends into her life for a year and transforms them into literate, polite, and attentive students through her infectious energy and joy. It’s magical: many of these first graders walk in the door barely able to write their name, much less read the worksheet in front of them… and they leave at the end of the year with their short stories about summer dreams and reports about representative democracy proudly displayed down the hallway.
She makes them promise that they will keep up their effort all through school: “you’re mine until college,” she’ll exclaim with a twinkle in her eye. And the kids remember it. They’ll come back for a visit as a high school senior, giving Mrs. Booker a big appreciative hug, letting the flood of elementary school memories from a decade earlier wash over their otherwise awkwardly confident teenage self.
These kids know one simple fact: my teacher believes in me.
This is a sentiment too often overlooked, but vital to the success of these precious first graders as they make their way from centers and recess to algebra and band practice. After watching both my parents work in and around the public schools for my entire life, it’s amazing what a small and steady dose of encouragement can do for a young person. Teachers have the power to elevate your perspective and help you not only find your way, but truly find yourself.
So with the smell of sharpened pencils and chalk dust hanging in the air, I shared my own thoughts with the hard-working teachers, principals, and staff of the Pulaski County Public Schools, where I grew up in Virginia. They kicked off their year with a series of video greetings from alumni of all walks of life, including my hat tip to my high school Earth science teacher, Dave Carroll, who now leads the meteorology program at Virginia Tech. I’m so grateful for all the teachers, my mom included, who have paved the way for where I am today. Happy first day of school!
Special thanks to Jeff McCoy, my friend and teacher since sixth grade, who invited me to share my story at opening convocation for the Pulaski schools!