Thursday, April 4, 2013

Thanks to you.

My elementary school, Inglewood, California.

She had a burning desire to go far,
And she had lively hopes 

of reaching every star
One day she'd leave this place,
But never forget her people's face
And when she found her dreams,
She'd come back and proclaim:
Baby, you will rise
Limit is the skies
Don't you let nobody fill 

your head up with their lies
Baby, you will rise
Never compromise
Milk and honey's waitin' for you 
on the other side

You will rise....

~ Amel Larrieux with Sweetback

 It's amazing how great of an impact people and experiences can have on who we become. Good or bad, huge or teensie-weensie, these moments that we have with others become building blocks of who we are.

My parents, of course, were careful to cherish us growing up. As a little girl, my father looked at me lovingly and treated me that way, too. My mother would let me sneak into her bed long after I was a toddler and every, single time I did, she'd wrap her arm around me, kiss the top of my pony tail, and snuggle me against her warm body. She would read my homemade books and ooh and ahh at my elementary school art creations.

And all of that helped shape me. But you know? Now that I'm older and with kids of my own, I know that it wasn't just my folks. It wasn't.

Today, I'm reflecting on a few of the people who helped to build me up in my early years. I'm thinking about how grateful I am that they were such judicious stewards of their time with me and I'm recognizing how great of an impact they had on who I am now.

The last time I was home, I got the chance to see a few of those people--particularly the ones who taught me in my neighborhood public schools. With so much bad press about education in this country (and locally), what better time than to shine a light on some good people who I think got some things right? It's also "Teacher Appreciation Week" at the boys' school so I kind of have appreciating teachers on the brain. . . .


Matter o' fact. . .I wrote a little post about it. Like to hear it? Here it go!

First, her:

This is Mrs. Schieldge. She was my back-to-back kindergarten and first grade teacher way back in 1975 - 77. What I remember the most about her is that she told me repeatedly that I was smart and special and talented. She encouraged me to write a story in first grade that my mother helped me type up and put into a special folder. It felt like a masterpiece.

"You are such a bright and special girl," she told me. And she told me this often.

Even though I was only five or six years old, I remember her saying that to me. I can see me coloring at my desk and giving my very best effort. I keep those words in my pocket to this day and do my best to believe them.

I appreciate Mrs. Schieldge. And you know? I was not at the "it" school by any stretch of the imagination. This was an inner city public school where just about everyone there looked like me and not her. But this woman built her entire career in that very school and never left.

She made a difference in my life. She did.

So did this lady:

This is Ms. Osborne. (She was the first person I met who was a "Ms," which always made her seem extremely cool.)  Ms. Osborne was my fifth grade teacher when I first started at the magnet school in our district. I was nervous and scared and unsure about a lot of things. But once I got into Ms. Osborne's class, that didn't last long.


Ms. Osborne opened my eyes to a world of poetry, literary classics and so much more. With her, I read books like "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" and even "The Odyssey." Ms. Osborne taught me about haiku and onomatopoeia. She published a little book of poetry each year and I still remember how proud I felt when I saw my work printed in a bound book.

Haiku by Kimberly Draper, 5th grade:

The clouds are pretty
Cotton candy in the sky
a beautiful cloud

Even if it wasn't so great, it doesn't matter. That's the exact poem that was printed in that book and let me tell you how I know: Because it was a pivotal experience. People remember things that shape them.

I appreciate Ms. Osborne for opening this world to me and helping me find my place in it. She made me feel like I belonged there.

And then, there's this guy:

Mr. Evans.

Sigh. Good ol' Mr. Evans.

Can I first just go on the record and say that middle school sucked? For me, of all of the times I had in my education--medical school included--no transition was harder for me than that one I made to middle school. Socially, academically, and just period. Middle school sucked.

Yeah, I said it.

For me, it was the first time that I ever really had to fully manage myself. No one was nudging me or coaching me to do my work or get it in on time. My pretty drawings and poetry weren't enough in middle school. There was more to do, more to learn and more responsibility. Which, for me, was rough.

Mr. Evans held my feet to the fire. He took no prisoners and pushed me to figure out how to sit my butt down and do my work. He was a firm, yet fair, git'r done or git'a zero kind of dude. There was no favoritism or passes with him. And honestly, that was hard for me. I had trouble getting things completed and often felt overwhelmed. But eventually, with his help, I got better at time management. I figured out what I needed to do as a learner, which was sort of different than some of my friends. I learned that I was a procrastinator, but that this was okay--as long as I figured out when I had to get on my job and get crack-a-lacking.

And when I didn't? There was no charming my way out of the big, fat 'C' that Mr. Evans would place in that top right hand corner without batting a lash.

"You were capable of an 'A', " he said, "but you just didn't make up your mind to work for it."


I appreciate Mr. Evans because he taught me how to do my work. He taught me study habits and the importance of making up my mind to work to my potential. And he also showed me that there were consequences for mediocre efforts.

I am convinced that were it not for him, I would never have done as well in college or medical school as I did. His lessons took me far beyond middle school. His influence changed my life.


My middle school, Los Angeles, California

 Mrs. McNeal.

I wish I had a photo of her, but I don't. Mrs. McNeal unfortunately passed away from leukemia several years ago. But that doesn't mean that I don't remember everything about her just like it was yesterday. From her short salt and pepper hair cut, to her strict rules, to her liberal use of red ink all over our work--I remember it all.

Aaaaah, Mrs. McNeal. She was my eighth grade language arts teacher. And man, oh man, was she tough. I owe this blog, in part, to her. She was the person who really, really pushed me to write. She would write things like:

"Flesh this out more." Which meant that there was more in me to write.

"Don't be lazy!"  Which meant I was choosing easy words as a way out.

"Less is more!" Which meant that I had chosen too much.

Then there were the McNeal abbreviations:

"FRAG!"   (for fragment.)

"GRAMM!" (for grammatical errors.)

"AWK!" (for awkward wording.)

"DISJ!"  (for disjointed things that didn't fit the story.)

"REV!"  (which meant I needed to write it all over again.)

Mrs. McNeal taught me about literary license. She told me that it was okay to sometimes use quirky grammatical choices for informal story telling because sometimes it could give emphasis. She'd show me examples in literature and helped me to know when it was and wasn't appropriate. Mrs. McNeal helped me to learn to love writing. And to feel like I had to.

I cried when my mom told me she was sick. I cried again when she passed away. Writing about her even today makes my eyes sting a bit. But you know? I feel like I honor her every single time I write on this blog or anywhere else. Which means that she is very much alive.

Yes, she is.

My mother is a retired teacher. I know for certain that someone, somewhere is feeling these same feelings about her. And I love that. Did you know? Deanna was an educator, too. She taught middle school in some of the toughest schools in Atlanta and when someone asked her why she didn't just go somewhere easier, do you know what she said? She said:

"If I don't stay here and teach them, who will?"

Knowing the impact that she surely had on so many children warms my heart. Because it means that beyond even her family and friends, like Mrs. McNeal on this blog, she, too, will live on in ways that even I can't imagine.

Lord knows I would've never imagined all of this back in eighth grade. 

And yes. It stinks that there are also some teachers who haven't been so mindful of their influence on kids and who, just maybe, were sleeping on the job. But you know what? There are a whole, whole, whole lot of educators out there who leave it all on the field, man. Who get up and tell kindergartners that they are bright and special. Who open worlds of Greek mythology and iambic pentameters to young fifth graders. Who crack the most well-meaning whips on sixth graders and push them to achieve their full potential in ways that work best for them. And of course, the ones who pull out their red felt-tipped pens and graffiti the cursive written essays of fledgling eighth grade writers.

Yes, they still exist. I know they do because they are meeting me for parent-teacher conferences and helping me with building up my own children right now.

So, yeah. Shout out to the educators who have been serious about their role in the village of raising up children. Shout out to Mrs. Schieldge and Ms. Osborne and Mr. Evans and Mrs. McNeal. Shout out to Mrs. Draper and Miss Draper, too. And you know? Shout out to Mrs. Reed and Coach Bashor and Mr. Benefield and all of the people I know right NOW who remind me that teachers who care are not a thing of the past.

No way, no how.

You know what?  No matter what the newspapers tell you, all is not lost. It's not, it isn't, it ain't.*

*You can thank Mrs. McNeal for that (appropriately placed) FRAG! and that GRAMM! used for emphasis in this informal piece of writing.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week. (At least, at my kids' school.)

Now playing on my mental iPod. . . Amel Larrieux with Sweetback singing "You will rise."

P.S  OMG! I just remembered that for a brief spell, Deanna had a blog. Turns out that she never took it down. . .and that made me sooo happy! She wrote about a few of her funny encounters as a middle school teacher in inner city Atlanta -- and through the humor, you can feel the love she had for those kids. Go visit her posts here.  Among her many other gifts, she had a beautiful gift for writing, too. What a joy to hear her authentic voice through her writing today. And you know what? There's another teacher somewhere to thank for that.


  1. This was beautifully written and it made me think back with fondness at so many of the teachers I had that I just loved. Teachers were the single most positive influence in my early years. I was a kid that HATED to be home and hated vacations and I felt my true safe place to be was at school. It is so wonderful that you took the time on your blog to recognize your "old" teachers and the ones of your kids. I hope that teachers, like Deanna, realize the strong, important and positive impact they have on young lives. Sweet Jo

    1. Those teachers were just a few of the amazing ones that I always remembered. I could fill a whole book with names through my medical training, too. I am glad that your teachers provided you a soft place to land.

      I appreciate you reading, Sweet Jo.

  2. P.S. I just read the entries in your sister's blog. I laughed out loud twice, a rarity for me. She seemed funny and loving. I do have to say that her background is PINK, you were right... S. Jo

    1. Isn't that a special gift that her blog still exists? It brought me such joy to see that and even our exchanges in the comments. :)

  3. I loved this post -- it made me want to dig around and write about my own teacher memories, although I don't have any photos of them other than a few yearbooks from middle and upper school. The photo of you as a kindergartner is outrageously cute, and the painful middle schooler -- well, maybe not cute, but PRICELESS. You rocked those large glasses. I was in eighth grade and had a very similar pair -- with the addition of ROSE TINTED LENSES.

    1. You are a true friend because you didn't say that middle school photo was cute. It wasn't! Ha ha ha. And I'm so sorry that you, too, had such heinous spectacles in Atlanta as a kid.Geeze. What was that about? And rose tinted, Elizabeth?


      Thank goodness we're such hot mamas now. We showed those kids who teased us and our big glasses, didn't we? Ah hem.

  4. From the deck of the Poop,
    This is absolutely magnificent! I too, have a couple of teachers that I remember. Mrs. King, grades 5 & 6. She made me feel smart. Mr. Moore, biology. I still remember things that I learned about the human body, and plants and photosynthesis. What? Mrs. McKella, 11th grade English. If not for her, I'd still be in freshmen English "true". I had lousy math teachers but I managed to get through engineering school.
    I attribute much of that to one of my greatest teachers; my big brother Skeeter. He taught my how to hustle, to survive, to talk to girls, how to drive a car. He let me drive a 55 Pontiac to school when I was in the 7th grade. True story. Then there was my dad who taught me by example, how to be a father.

    1. I love that you love this. I could devote an entire blog to what you've taught me and my sons. I love you so.

  5. When I was growing up, my family was not, uh, perfect? In fact, home life was pretty fraught with a lot of unhappiness and it has been clear to me for many years that it was a few teachers I had who saved my life. Yes, quite literally. Because they let me know I had gifts worth living for. They cherished me in ways I was not cherished at home.
    I am so grateful to them and will remember them with love always.
    I still want to make them proud.

    1. This sort of made me want to cry. I want to hug those teachers. They're such important people.

      I still want to make mine proud, too. I guess that never goes away, does it?

  6. Kimberly, I don't know if you remember my brother, Daniel Williford. He graduated with Jolai. He is a high school history teacher now. Daniel is the teacher all the kids want to have. He is truly in the field he is in because he loves it. He loves his kids and he loves seeing that he can make a difference in their lives. :)It's funny because when we were in high school, he did everything he could to avoid school, and now the education of others means the world to him.

    I don't know if you had Mr. Curci for any of your math classes at MHS, but he was THAT teacher for me. I HATED (with a capital H.A.T.E.D.)math. Couldn't stand it in any of its different shapes and sizes. Mainly because I didn't understand a lot of it. Mr. Curci taught me that math didn't have to be hard. He took time with me and showed me that a lot of the problems I was having with it was that it was NOT supposed to be easy. I wanted everything to be easy and didn't like to try. Curci taught me that if I tried and learned what was hard, it would then become easy. I will always be thankful for that, from him.

    1. Yes, I had Mr. Curci. He was awesome. I also remember that he had a big Sade poster in his classroom and a boombox. So after learning about the Pythagorean theorem, we'd also get to hear a little bit of "Smooth Operator." Ha ha ha.

      He was way cool. But admittedly, that was a rather gray era for me because I was too busy fanning the flames of a ginormous crush on Todd Moton. That took up all of my time in 9th grade Geometry. Ha ha ha!

    2. HA! Those were the days. :)

  7. This warmed and touched my heart today! I am a Kindergarten teacher and always appreciate the kind and thoughtful words received from others. Teaching is a complex and demanding job, but it is also joyful and intrinsically rewarding. It's our students that keep us going and I'm grateful and blessed to be a part of such a noble profession.

    1. Here's to you, Kera. Thank you for all that you do! My son's current kindergarten teacher is also amazing. I can tell that she is in her true calling which is amazing to witness. I feel lucky to have her with Zachary this year.

  8. Really enjoyed the detail of this post, it drives the message home much harder than general "appreciation week" reminders. So many pivotal moments from teachers, unappreciated until decades later -- or perhaps even more important than particular moments is the question, what would have happened if their encouragement and tough love hadn't been there? There's Googling & thanking to do.

    1. Thanks, Nate. The decades later delay gave you time to use Google. So it's win-win.

  9. How can I not love this? I hope all of my teacher friends read it and know how much they are appreciated. It's a lovely thought to think that I have students out in the world that remember me fondly.

  10. I loved this post. Loved it. I just wanted to tell you I shared this with a really cool bloggy friend I have who is a high school teacher in Maine. I think she'll find your words as inspiring as I did. Have a great weekend!

  11. Teacher Appreciation Week is really done up right at our school and I do so appreciate all the flowers and gift cards and lunches! But, I do have to say that these words and sentiments are what every teacher lives for and you could not "appreciate" a teacher in any better way that what you have expressed here.
    I believe that it is an honor and a privilege to teach children every day and I am especially honored to be a small part of your family's life in that way...
    Love, Coach B

  12. I loved this post so much I didn't know what to say. I had a few teachers like that, who I will remember fondly and kindly all my life because they nurtured a spark in my and helped me feel more normal and I wish I had thanked them better.
    It's amazing the ripples people can make in each other's lives.


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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