An Education for the Soul By Teresa J. Herbic
By Teresa J. Herbic
With school starting soon, we realize the importance of spending time with our children more than ever. We are also reminded of the value of an education. Moving from a top-notch Missouri education system to a stellar, award-winning Texas school system, I’m excited about my teenagers attending what I consider some of the best schools in the nation right here in San Antonio.
From Universities presenting regular functions at area high schools, to prestigious scholarships and high standard public school districts, we are fortunate to be surrounded with gifted principals, teachers, counselors, coaches, administration, special education leaders, nurses, cafeteria workers and others to lead our children to a bright, amazing future.
As we reflect upon our own formal learning experiences, we may remember teachers from years past. Maybe a high school favorite who encouraged you to share your talents or a coach who taught you to be a better athlete or an elementary instructor who spoke a good word to you on an unhappy day. Come join me on a journey from year’s past:
From a one-room, multi-grade schoolhouse to an airy classroom filled with tikes. There sat students in bright colored bell-bottoms, knit tops and brown leather vests. As the X-generation ushered in the seventies, I melted into the mix. It was my first day in Kindergarten.
For children, Kindergarten is a vital starting point instilling your views on school and education. For children today, there are all sorts of neat things happening in the classroom. When it comes to technology and innovation, there’s a clear focus on new ideas and initiatives.
Yet, if you are a Gen-Xer like me, the environment of the past remained simple. There was a teacher’s large wooden desk at the center of the room facing students, followed by several rows of vintage school desks. Not much beyond that plain image.
If you are from another era, visualize for a moment yellow metal desks with attached wooden chairs, topped with large red, Big Chief notebooks and number two pencils. A large rectangle, open space appeared underneath for all our school junk including a large pencil box, a metal decorative lunch box and other items. Some kids kept spaces nice and neat, while others stuffed theirs full and had scrunched papers falling out.
If you’re a Gen-Xer or a Baby Boomer, it’s been many years since elementary school. Maybe you weren’t even around in the seventies. Or maybe you are frustrated with the evolving classroom that’s striving to go paperless?
Yet, the state of Texas has designated the San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) a “District of Innovation.” The Centers of Applied and Technology will open this fall as a magnet school full of career-venturing possibilities for students from all over the city. Other schools are planned like this, offering thirty college credit hours to its graduates.
North East ISD (NEISD) is offering advanced career and Information Technology Cluster Courses for its students such as Architecture and Construction, Marketing, Manufacturing, Health Science, Hospitality and Tourism and other occupation-focused studies.
Harmony School of Innovation locally is offering a stronger focus on science, technology, engineering and math for K-12 students as well. The school’s STEM Army-sponsored program provides beyond the norm education, as well as internships and competitions even for its Kindergartners.
Again, compared to this, my Kindergarten classroom appeared modest. I remember it like yesterday. The blackboard extended across the front of the room, with long white chalk and giant, powdery erasers. The boys’ trick was to scratch the board with nails to draw annoying complaints or screams from the girls.
The teacher arrived, outfitted in an aqua summer outfit with a graphic floral print, which makes it hard to escape the memory. I appeared in long brunette-snug ponytails dangling from ear-to-ear like an inspired and somewhat awkward girl.
My mom kissed and hugged me good bye as I strolled into the classroom. I felt confident and assured it would be a great day. About twenty children sat lined in rows from front to back. ABCs adorned the blackboard. Yet, an uneasiness overcame me.
Then, my teacher re-appeared. She carried a grim look with evident anger deep in her eyes. She didn’t seem to care for her job or the meandering children scattered nigh in desks throughout the room. She reminds me now of Miss Havisham of the movie “Great Expectations,” arguably the grimmest and most depressing character. This puzzled me. I thought everyone said that teachers are nice, positive and upbeat…they love children, and you will have fun in Kindergarten. Not with this teacher, it seemed.
Regardless, I kept a confident attitude and said “Hi teacher.”
Mrs. Johnson nodded with no noise returning from her crackled, decaying lips.
Okay, I thought, believing she must be having a bad day. We’ve all had those difficult days, haven’t we?
She abruptly marched to the front of the room, grabbed a new white piece of chalk and scratched fiercely across the blackboard—MRS. JOHNSON. She then reported sternly, “My name is Mrs. Johnson, your teacher. You will listen to me and respect me! You will not do anything to disrupt the classroom. Is that understood?”
That’s simple enough, I considered. But what about that sternness?
She began teaching us the alphabet and numbers. Then, to my despair, I noticed my navy blue tennis shoes came untied on my right foot.
Oh my! I can’t let that be. I know I have to fix it! So I began tying away. I heard several children say they still couldn’t tie their own shoes so I felt pleased in my mind. I would show them, and they would be encouraged to learn. Ever felt like that sort of expert?
I tied the laces, rabbit’s ears first. Then, as I finished the final step, I saw Mrs. Johnson’s large, awkward, man-like feet coming toward me. As they arrived in front of my desk, I questioned, what’s wrong?
Ever have that powerful, excruciating reminder of “Oh no! Oh yeah! I forgot! I’m not supposed to disrupt?” That was me; caught in the act undeniably, not realizing at first I was upsetting anyone.
“What on earth are you doing, Teresa?” Mrs. Johnson questioned fiercely. “Tying shoes in class is a disruption. No one’s listening to me. Everyone’s paying attention to you. Go, right this very minute, to the corner and sit in that chair. You will stay there the rest of the day!” Mrs. Johnson insisted.
I teared up, but held it back as much as possible. I wanted to be strong. I didn’t want to be a cry baby, but in disbelief questioned why can’t I tie my own shoes when they need tying?
Yet, I did what she told me and trotted innocently to the front seat in the corner. It was only 8:30 a.m. It’s going to be a long day of sitting and sitting some more, I realized.
I sat there shaking—undeniably upset; how could this happen?—all this for tying my shoes? Then, I began to feel uncomfortable. My bottom shifted, squirming in the seat. I couldn’t take it. I wondered how many people were on my side or if most stared and mocked me. By the end of the day, I felt zoned out—convinced I had the most evil, wicked teacher. I would never return there, I affirmed.
Sprinting to the car, “Mom, Mom, you won’t believe what happened! I’m so sad,” I reported.
“What Teresa? What’s the matter?” Mom inquired so lovingly. I could tell she was quite concerned about my feelings. “Didn’t you have fun in Kindergarten?”
“No way, it was the worst!” I proclaimed. “It was the worst day of my life. The teacher is horrible!”
“That school is out for me! I can’t go back to that terrible place ever!”
She told me, “You have to go back. That’s just the way it is. Everybody has to go to school.”
Yet, the more upset I got, the more sympathetic she became. Then, she said, “I don’t think it would hurt to take a few days off. Then, we’ll try it again. What do you say?”
Relieved I responded, “Yes, yes! Thank you, Mom! I love you, Mom, but Mom, I’m sure I will never go back there.”
Days passed. My mom kept in touch with school officials trying to keep the peace. Soon it became two weeks. Each day I felt more convicted in my decision…I’ll never go back. However, the day came when Mom had to be tough. She dressed me, pulled my hair back into typical ponies, and placed me into the car assertively. As she strapped me in the seat belt, she assured me, “Everything’s going to be okay.”
All I could think of was Mrs. Johnson’s bitter, wrinkle-ridden face full of the angers and disappointments of an ill-placed career. She didn’t belong there or maybe I just didn’t belong there?
We arrived at my quaint little elementary school. “I’m not going in!” I exclaimed. “I can’t!”
“Yes, you can,” Mom pronounced. “We have to do this!”
Then, the principal appeared at the elementary door entry. “I can help you. I’ll get Teresa.”
He arrived at the door, unfastened my seat belt and grabbed me firmly, yet gently and with kindness on his face. “Let’s go inside, Teresa. It’s time!”
I refused. Then, he picked me up and held me securely. He began packing me as my feet slipped and eventually drug in the muddy parking lot. I kicked my legs abruptly. Mud slung camouflaging him. Needless to say, he wasn’t happy. His face grew red with eyebrows tilting awkwardly.
We arrived there inside with Mom following close behind. Mr. Snodgrass talked with my mom for a bit and finally after my mom saying, “We have to do something different here,” he said, “I have an idea. I’ll be right back!” His face lit up like a light bulb went off in his head.
He left for what seemed like forever, returning in a happy demeanor. “I have a solution. I have another Kindergarten teacher. Her name is Mrs. Lovelace, and I’m sure you will like her. Would it be okay to meet her?”
“What do you think, Teresa?” Mom asked. I felt thankful she loved me and wouldn’t force me into something I didn’t feel comfortable doing.
I pondered further: I could say no and wind up with Mrs. Johnson again as my teacher and that would never work… Or I could say yes and see what this lady’s like. What could the harm be?
Such a life-altering decision!
“Alright,” I agreed.
Mr. Snodgrass said to me, “Good! I’ll go get her.”
Then, soon after, a lovely lady approached me with gentle, caring eyes and a bright, beautiful smile. “Hi Teresa, I’m Mrs. Lovelace, it’s very nice to meet you, Honey.”
She called me, ‘Honey,’ I reflected. She’s the total opposite of Mrs. Johnson.
Mrs. Lovelace had beautiful brown hair worn shoulder-length and fashioned around her exquisite face. She wore a knit top with a nifty skirt and scarf. She carried a smile that drew your eyes in pure peace. I could almost see Jesus in her eyes.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Lovelace,” I returned, considering her sweet ways and reassuring face. Plus, she has a super name that incorporates Love and Lace(s)—for shoelaces, I thought. It must be a sign from God, ‘yes, this is the teacher.’
The year flew by, and I truly loved and still adore my precious Kindergarten teacher who reminded me at a crucial time in my life that we are all humans meant to encourage one another. Simple kindness, helpfulness, hopefulness and love is a gift you can offer another soul. She showed me that in a critical moment when I could have gone astray. I thank God for Mrs. Lovelace and teachers in my kids’ lives today who put others before themselves to make a genuine difference.
Do you have teachers like this from your past or present who have spoken words into your very soul?
I recollect Mrs. Lovelace telling me you can do anything you set your mind to in life if only you believe.
As I sat at my recent book signing, I heard that sweet, gentle voice again, “Teresa…” There, she stood with that same beautiful, gentle, loving face, Mrs. Lovelace. She inspired me all those years ago and continues to motivate me still today.
Since the 70s, there have been many changes and technological upgrades in the classroom, but one virtue withstands the test of time—simple encouragement. It doesn’t matter if your school is based on innovation trends or if it reflects in your mind as a simple, paper-filled environment. A character-rich, kind, supporting and caring role-model like my Mrs. Lovelace makes all the difference.
The Lord says to “love your neighbor as yourself.” This is a great motto for teachers, leaders and everyday people in general. If Mrs. Lovelace hadn’t pronounced positivity, light and love into my life at that essential moment, I wouldn’t be the writer I am today.
Thank you especially to those who care about children like Mrs. Lovelace. Thank you for nurturing souls who reinforce to our young people what they all desire to hear:
“You can do anything you set your mind to if only you believe.”
I believe, Mrs. Lovelace. I believe!
I believe that every child deserves a champion – a leader in life who teaches them how to become the absolute best they can be. I also ask children to be bold when it’s time to make positive decisions in life. I made an important, clearly affirming decision many years ago and truly benefited from the outcome. May your life and future be happy!
Teresa J. Herbic is Advisor and Co-Founder of Families for Adoption. She and her family live in San Antonio. She is the author of two children’s compassion series books, “Dog Tales” and “Cat Tales” including encouraging stories through the eyes of real adopted shelter pets. She will release via Whitaker House a family prayer activity book called “Family Prayer Made Easy” September 6th. She and her husband, Galen, live with their children Meyana and Braxten, both adopted from Asia, and their cat Lolli, adopted from the United States.