There is actually a tie for this. There were plenty of influential teachers who were amazing at their craft and their impact on my life was felt. From English teachers to History to Coaches to band directors, but there were 2 that impacted me far more than the others.
First was my third grade teacher, Mrs. Aycock. Now let me set the scene. When I was in third grade I went to Paul Keyes Elementary. At the time this was an upper middle class area of Irving and the school population was 99% white. There were 3 other Mexican kids in the Third grade. Raul and Leticia Sosa and Joseph Castro. Raul and Leticia did not speak English and me and Joseph did not speak Spanish. They made us sit in the back of the class when we first started. At lunch we had to wait at the back of the line because we were on government assisted lunch programs so they wanted the paying kids to get the hot meals. We sat at a separate table as well. I didn’t know what or why but that is how it was.
I have talked about this all before but me and my brother were latch key kids. We walked home from school and fed ourselves and stayed until our mom got home from work. Our dad was not really around at all and did not pay child support so we did not have much. We did not have good clothes and I was a dirty stinky kid. I had friends and all but I was not all amazing as I am today. Ha.
I remember it was close to the Christmas Break and the school was going to take all of us to see a play that was being put on by the drama department at MacArthur High School. Looking back, those kids seemed like old adults. The school sent home permission slips and requested that the students be in dressy clothes. Sunday Church stuff. I didn’t have clothes like that but my mom dressed me as best as could be afforded. I remember getting to the school and the boys were dressed up and the girls were in dresses and there I am with ratty jeans with frog knee patched sewed on them. I was a hot mess.
One of the biggest things was getting to sit with the teacher. Back then it was a honor and kids who sat with the teacher were treated like they were the shit.
One thing about Mrs. Aycock was that she was a caring woman. I never felt like she felt sorry for me. I was a good student and smart. She put me in class lead type roles like being in charge of games and stuff.
The play was about to start and everyone was wondering who was going to get to sit by the teacher. In shocking fashion, I was selected. At the time I did not know why but I believe she understood where I was at in that world. She knew the play and I believe she wanted to make a point.
The play was a similar story to The Little Drummer Boy. It was about the 3 Kings and one of their stops while they were following the star. They came upon a village full of people in fancy clothes and money with the exception of one family. It was a poor family with a crippled little boy who walked with a crutch. The 3 Kings told their story to the people about why they were taking these expensive gifts to the new born King. The poor family had nothing to give but the boy spoke to the Kings and said all that he owned was his crutch. He said he wanted them to take it to the new King so if he ended up crippled, he would have a crutch. His gesture was recognized by the Kings and they told the boy that his gift was the greatest of all because it was everything the kid had. As the kid left the Kings without his crutch, he fell to the ground. The Kings told him that if he had faith, he would never need a crutch again. The boy then rose to his feet and was healed. Show ended. Kids clapped, the adults were teary eyed. I didn’t get it.
As we boarded the bus, Mrs. Aycock told me to sit next to her. Once again, I was the cat’s meow to the other kids. When we got back she asked me where my ride was and I told her my mom was across the street waiting. She wasn’t because she was at work but I didn’t want her or the kids seeing that I had to walk home. Mrs. Aycock then pulled me aside and told me the most influential thing said to me at that point in my life. She told me that she wanted me to sit with her at the play because I deserved to sit on the front row. She told me that she saw that play before and that I reminded her of the little boy. I said I didn’t have a crutch. OF course I did not understand what she was saying at that moment. She then went on to tell me that no matter how poor I may look or feel, that I had a place in the front but I had to work hard and sacrifice.
I thanked her and hugged her. I went inside the school to use the bathroom and hid out until everyone was pretty much gone so I could walk home. At the time there was a large field across the street that we had to cross to get to the sidewalk. As I walked on that dirt path the story of the play and what she said made sense to me. Granted I was in third grade but I did understand. I remembered the kids being nicer to me because I got to sit with the teacher. I started to cry. I cried and cried until I got to my neighborhood. I sucked it up and went home and played.
Sadly, later in my life towards the end of my high school years, I found out that Mrs. Aycock passed away. Every time I felt isolated or less than, I always thought of her and her words to me.
The other teacher was from my time in Junior High. I went to Stephen F. Austin in Irving and by that time it was more diverse. I played football and, even though we sucked, if you played football you were somewhat popular. By this point my mom remarried and we lived in a better house and I had slightly better clothes. We never had real money though so I never really got to participate in outside of school activities. We just could not afford it at all. I focused on my school work and I was a good student. National Jr. Honor Society and all.
One of my teachers was Mrs. Garrett. She was an amazing teacher. She was so involved with her students and was a leader in the school. She was big on reading and always told us to get into books. She always had us doing projects and artsy things. She would sit and talk to her students and would really get to know them.
I was in band in 7th and 8th grade and always had to carry around my instrument case. Even though I played football and was one of the “cool” kids, the other students really ripped on band kids back then. It was brutal at times. It’s like one minute I was cool and the next I was a dork. It was weird. Mrs. Garrett saw that treatment and was not going to sit by and let it continue. Since she was the cool teacher, she would go to the band concerts then praise the band kids the next day in class to make them feel cool. I was one of them. She always told me that I was creative. I would write book reports and she would always compliment me.
She took care of our fragile egos during that time in our lives where they are the most fragile. She was always supportive and would always have an open door for us to come talk with her or just hang out. Since I could not do a lot of the cool things due to no money, she would always treat me like I was rich in many other ways. She paid attention to my strengths and would help me to see that I had value as a student and as a person. I grew so much from her teaching in class and about life. She cared and she loved her job. Even after I was gone, I would go back and visit with her to let her know how I was doing. She was that teacher that you would go back to see even after you moved on to the next level of education.
She ended up leaving the school due to health issues and passed a few years after due to cancer. I remember when I heard about it and I was heartbroken.
I am a 48 year old man and I can still remember their faces, what they said to me and their impact on my life still happens to this day. Both passed before their time and that breaks my heart. I know if they were still here today, I would probably still be visiting them like I was still that little kid. I would tell them that every time I would train someone or mentor, it was because they believed in me and knew I would accomplish anything if I worked for it.
Teachers are amazing.