09 May

The Teachers Who Helped Me Find Myself by Kimberly Gabriel

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10), we at Blink want to thank each person who works in the education profession. We know the work you do isn’t always easy; however, the impact you have can be life-changing.

In an effort to honor those who have shaped and molded us, each day this week will feature a special blog post from a Blink author about a teacher—or teachers—who had a profound impact in their life.

To all those working in the education field—thank you for believing in us when we didn’t know how to believe in ourselves. We value and admire the work that you do!

The Teachers Who Helped Me Find Myself by Kimberly Gabriel

Growing up, I was a skinny, red-headed girl with freckles. I had a loving family, but outside of my home I was quiet, shy, and often times felt awkward in my own skin. I was never defined as the smartest or the funniest or the most popular or the best at sports. Instead, I was perfectly average at everything. I was the kid who liked to blend into her surroundings, and I worked very hard at not being noticed because I was insecure. But when I look back at my journey, I can see that I was noticed by teachers who went out of their way to get to know me, teachers who loved, protected, pushed, and encouraged me to be the best version of myself through a series of indelible moments.

It began in second grade, when Mrs. Reynolds became the first person beside my parents to make me feel special. She taught her students to be kind to one another, showed us how to listen to each other, and encouraged us to understand one another. Then she modeled the behaviors by the way she treated us. When she realized that I liked dance, she found me books that featured strong, beautiful dancers. She knew I liked to write, and so she made me a makeshift journal by stapling sheets of notebook paper together and encouraged me to write down my thoughts. In many ways, my path to publication began with her.

Later in sixth grade, Mrs. Daughtery made me feel safe. I struggled in middle school to find good friends and positive peer relationships. Half way through my sixth grade year when Mrs. Daughtery noticed girls picking on me in cruel and harsh ways, she moved my seat and kept me separated from them. She invited me to help her grade papers in her room during lunch, so I didn’t have to sit alone in the cafeteria. When I found out I didn’t have any classes with those girls the following year, I knew Mrs. Daughtery was the one who made sure of it.

In eighth grade, Mrs. Brooks made me feel challenged. Her classroom was dominated by high-expectations, rigor, and her no-nonsense approach. She assigned a ton of nightly homework, and we rarely saw her smile. But that year in her classroom, I learned more about grammar, writing, reading, and presenting than from any other teacher I’d ever had.

As a freshman, Coach Alrutz, made me feel smart. After I gave a short character presentation on the Wife of Bath, Coach Alrutz told me I was smart in front of the entire room. I’d always been a student who took honors classes, but those classes were always full of students more gifted than I was. When he genuinely complimented me that day, he empowered me and gave me a sense of worth and pride that hadn’t been there before.

As a senior, Dr. Romano, made me feel worthy. He pulled me aside when handing back a book review I’d written and encouraged me to publish it. Then, he worked with me for several weeks until The English Journalaccepted it for publication. Little did he know at the time that he was encouraging me to embrace myself as a writer—something I was too scared to do so. Dr. Romano sparked a sense of possibility that one day I might write and publish a book.

When I was in college, I took English Education courses with Dr. Mary Fuller. One day during the first part of a two hour class, a young man dominated the discussion by asserting opinions that I adamantly disagreed with. Because I wasn’t the type to argue, I kept quiet and said nothing. During the break, Dr. Fuller walked up to me and said, “I’ve read your papers, and I know you don’t agree with him. I really wish you’d offer an opposing viewpoint.” When I returned to the classroom, I delivered my arguments, and we went back and forth in a heated debate until I changed his mind on the topic. Dr. Fuller made me feel like I had a voice, which to this day is one of the most significant lessons I learned in my education.

While at the time these moments felt insignificant, I look back on them now with the realization that I achieved success in my own life as a teacher and writer because of the teachers who went beyond the curriculum to reach me. Each of their simple gestures became powerful life lessons that helped to shape the strong, confident, outspoken person I’ve become. I can only hope that the impressions I give to the students in my classroom are as positive as the ones that guided me.