This week, I'm continuing my tribute to the teachers who have made the most impact in my life.
Mrs Winn: Over ten years ago, I had the privilege of publishing in Standard Publishing Company’s adult Sunday School take home paper, Seek, the story of the impact Mrs. Winn, my fifth grade teacher, had on my life. As a severely visually impaired child, I attended public school before mainstreaming became mandatory. My fourth grade teacher, fresh out of college, lacked the maturity and experience to know how to deal with a handicapped child in her classroom. She had a boy read the board to me instead of allowing me to sit close to the board. She restricted me in P.E., only allowing me to play outfield or second or third base. In retrospect, I wouldn’t let me play softball either. But we played only softball and kickball and an occasional game of dodgeball in our fourth grade class, so every afternoon, as team captains chose up sides and the teacher reminded them I couldn’t play certain positions, my visual impairment hung like a Damocles' sword above my fragile self esteem.
I became more miserable as the school year progressed, feigning illness just so I wouldn’t have to go to school. Finally my fourth grade teacher had had enough of me and the principal and school nurse insisted that I be placed in the state blind school. My mother dug in her heels, requesting I stay one more year and have Mrs. Winn as my fifth grade teacher. But I was deflated. School could never be the same. I knew no one wanted me, on their softball team or their classroom, for that matter.
The first week of school, Mark, the one boy who liked me, was selected to choose his softball team. He chose me to be catcher. A stunned silence dominated the classroom. Maria finally spoke up. “Mrs. Winn, Karen can’t be catcher. Our fourth grade teacher never let her be catcher.”
Mrs. Winn retorted, “Karen can do anything she wants to do and I don’t want any of you to forget it.”
Anything? Did she say anything? Mrs. Winn was referring only to softball team positions, but in my ten year old mind, that word “anything” took flight. I could do anything. Mrs. Winn said so. I walked onto the playing field that day, my head held high. I was a terrible catcher and my team probably lost, but it didn’t matter. I was someone important in the pecking order of my class. I was the catcher!
I cradled that word in my mind for the rest of my school years. Whenever someone told me I couldn’t do something because of my vision, I muttered to myself, “I can do anything. Mrs. Winn said so.” When college counselors encouraged me to go into rehab instead of my chosen field so I could be with others "of your own kind," I rebelled, because, “I can do anything. Mrs. Winn said so.” Whenever I had doubts about my parenting or my ability to teach because of my vision or other weaknesses, I remembered . . . . “anything she wants to do.” As I grew older, I found the Bible verse, “I can do all thing through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13)," and I realized my ability to do anything comes through the mighty loving power of God.
I still keep in touch with Mrs. Winn. She came to my college graduation. We exchange Christmas cards And I had the ultimate privilege of sending her this story when it was published. I cherish the letter she sent back to me.
One word. Sometimes it only takes one word to set a child free. As a teacher, you have the privilege of speaking that one word that can send a child soaring.