Thank You, Mrs. Barrett ~ Celebrate National Teacher Appreciation Week #teachers #writing

Image via Country Home Learning Center
Image via Country Home Learning Center

Most all of us artists recall the time in our lives, if not the exact moment, when we decided to be an artist. Although I’ve written for as long as I can remember, there was a pivotal moment when I had an epiphany, if you will, (though it came to me slowly), one that kindled my creative side so thoroughly I would never recall a time when I didn’t write.

This epiphany wasn’t a sudden, fully-formed story magically appearing before my eyes, I had not been wondering what I’d do with my life. I was 17-years-old, a senior in high school, when my English/Lit teacher, Mrs. Barrett, asked me to stay after class one afternoon.

I knew I wasn’t in trouble, I didn’t sit through class trying to figure out what she wanted. It was near the end of the school year, I’d be graduating in a few weeks. Throughout my last year of high school I’d assisted the junior English/Lit teacher and the drama coach with whatever they needed – grading papers, planning lessons, coaching freshman on acting. I expected Mrs. Barrett wanted to ask me to help one of them.

But when the students filed out that day and I walked to Mrs. Barrett’s desk she jumped out of her seat, and her round face shone a broad smile as she exclaimed, “Oh! Deanna! Oh Deanna, Deanna, Deanna!”  She bounced around on her little feet while shuffling through stacks of papers on her desk. Finally she found what she’d been looking for – my Stories and Poems notebook for the year. It was bright orange and held so many loose papers the spine had torn. Mrs. Barrett must’ve been the one to tape it back together for I didn’t remember doing that. She held it to her chest with the cover facing me. Throughout the year as I added more and more pages, I also applied various stickers to the cover, whatever caught my eye at the moment. Now a goofy-looking monkey, pouting, presented an empty banana peel to me.

“Deanna!” Mrs. Barrett said again as she sat the folder on her desk and riffled through the papers while I stood bewildered, wondering what on earth I’d done to cause such excitement. Maybe she was just celebrating the fast-coming end of the school year? But no, in a moment she pulled a page from the notebook, a poem I had written the previous week called Strawberry Fields. I saw a long note in red ink written down the right side margin, taking up every bit of white space I’d left. Now I was nervous, licking my lips, beginning to sweat.

Mrs. Barrett handled the paper carefully, as if afraid she might tear it, and as she presented it to me she leaned towards me and took hold of my forearm. I felt she was about to tell me the secret to a long life. This is what she said: “Not just this poem Deanna, which is beautiful, but everything in this notebook, everything you’ve written this year is proof that you need to reach out and pursue a career as a writer.”

I stood dumbfounded, staring at my favorite teacher with my mouth hanging stupidly open. She moved her hand from my arm to my shoulder. “Just think about it,” she said, “we all have the opportunity to follow our dreams and do what we want to do. I know you have several career ideas in mind right now,” (I’d expressed interest in becoming an interior designer, among a few other occupations), “but,” she went on, “you are destined to be a writer Deanna, I can feel it in my bones.”

I glanced down and saw that she now held my wrists in her warm hands and she was gently shaking them with each word. “You are very talented. Don’t let anything stop you.” She dropped her hands to her sides and stood back, looking over me like I was her little angel she’d just dressed up for a party. I was so touched, but I had never been very good at taking compliments and I had no idea how to respond. I felt anything but intelligent in that moment. Eventually I stammered a ‘thank you’ and went on to my next class.

In the nearly twenty-five years since that conversation I’ve thought often of Mrs. Barrett, especially when I have one of those “Oh, yes!” moments that sends me flying to the keyboard or the notebook to record the idea before I lost it. My senior English/Lit teacher is by far the greatest reason I felt confident enough to pursue writing, I will forever appreciate that she took the time to talk to me that day, that she felt strong in her conviction that I should write, and that she cared enough to share that thought with me.

Mrs. Barrett passed away last week but she will always be close to my heart. As we celebrate the superior teachers of our nation during National Teacher Appreciation Week, May 6th – 10th, (National Teacher Day is May 7th ), remember not only to thank your children’s teachers, but also to thank the teachers who have guided your life in significant ways.

Who was, or is, your favorite teacher? What makes them so special to you?

Thank you to all my sons’ teachers and thank you to Mrs. Barrett and the many other teachers I had the privilege to learn from throughout my life!

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10 thoughts on “Thank You, Mrs. Barrett ~ Celebrate National Teacher Appreciation Week #teachers #writing”

  1. Aw Deanna, I’m so sorry that Mrs Barret has passed away, but what an awesome teacher! She saw your talent early and did everything to impress on you your awesome gifting. Just as she did I too know you are a brilliant writer, and I’m not the only one in my family who thinks so.

    This was a wonderful, well-written post. I’m so glad you had good teachers, sad to say there is not one of my teachers who did anything for me. Being from a very poor family and also not too bright I was always put to the back of the class and ignored. I never received any encouragement or extra help and so I struggled through school, finishing at fifteen to go into the domestic workforce. Geez, it sounds almost draconian. Haha. 🙂 My mother-in-law is still teaching (even though she retired last summer) and the number of parents who beg for her to teach their kids and grandkids is astounding. So, with her, and my son’s teachers, and your lovely Mrs Barrett I know there are wonderful, caring, teachers our there. Thanks for sharing this is National Teacher Appreciation week with us, I’d never have known otherwise.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words Elizabeth. I should’ve mentioned Mrs. Barrett was great at encouraging all her students, not just me. She just had that natural talent for bringing out the best in everyone. I am blessed to have known her.
      I’m so sorry to hear you had crummy teachers. 😦 I recall having one like that, who seemed to single out those of us who didn’t have money and she tended to look down on us. I believe teachers like that are mostly miserable with their general lives and find their students an easy out. Sad really.
      I’m also fortunate that my sons have had such great teachers throughout school thus far. There was only one that I had issues with early on but thankfully we overcame that tough time.

    1. I didn’t know you were a teacher Icy, how great! I’m certain you inspire your students to aim high, especially if you teach as well as you write. 🙂

  2. Oh how I wished someone had encouraged me like that Deanna. I only started writing about 4 and half years ago, too late to make anything of myself at my age (62). But I’m glad she encouraged you, beacuse you are a wonderful writer!

    1. Speaking of age….I just saw that I hadn’t replied to you Helen and I feel terrible about that (apparently my mind is slipping). 😉
      But now I am, so consider me your encouraging teacher, it is Never too late! Think of all those who published (some their first books) after age 60: Daniel DeFoe, Laura Ingalls Wilder, William Golding, and many more. When writing is in our heart, it doesn’t leave us when we reach whatever age, it only grows more prolific. Keep on writing!
      I’ve been writing all my life, but I didn’t take it seriously until about five years ago, I didn’t even realize I was a fiction writer until Jon asked me to join the Friday Flash group. Granted, I’ve yet to produce a masterpiece, but maybe in twenty years, (when I’ll be beyond 60), I will have been working towards it and that, after all – the working towards it – is the best part, it’s what matters.

  3. I guess I’m in the category of those published after the age of 60, as I self published a fantasy fiction in 2012 and in February (2013) this year, my psychic thriller I Know You Know was published by Crooked Cat Publishing. Thank you so much for your encouragement and I guess perhaps I have made a little dent in writing but still have a long way to go. ^_^ I only wish I had started much younger and could have forged a career in writing, lets say for me now it’s a pleasant hobby that I just have to keep on doing

    1. I know just what you mean Helen. If I didn’t have to work a “real job” I’d be a lot further along with my writing career than I am, (at least I like to think I would be). As long as we’re happy when writing. 🙂

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