We studied dinosaurs, we studied the Civil War and I even remember the project I did with my friend Andrea where we wrote letters from the front line of the battle back home to our pretend families. I recall burning the edges of the paper so the letters would look old and worn. I have committed to memory a heated game of kickball where I was standing on the foul line and Chuck (the best kicker in the class) kicked one right down the foul line and before I could even move, my face stopped the ball and was a red, swollen mess for the rest of the day! It was also the year boys began to enter my life (although I was not ready for them!) Someone in our class had a “kissing game”. The game was just a girl and a boy and when you pushed the button, the heads spun and landed on the girl kissing the boy, the boy kissing the girl, both heads turned away or the boy and girl kissing each other. It landed on the boy and girl kissing each other and some boys in the class teased that since a boy named Kurt liked me, it was he and I kissing each other. I spent the rest of the day crying because I was so embarrassed. It was also the year Pat, a boy from my class that lived in my neighborhood, came to my front door and brought me a rose. My mother called me upstairs to accept it and made me say thank you and then I immediately retreated to my room, refusing to come out because I thought it meant I had to be his girlfriend and I didn’t want to be his girlfriend. Although my mom explained to me I didn’t need to be anyone’s girlfriend, I was so traumatized I refused to go to school the next day, thereby crushing my dream of the perfect attendance award I had been working so hard towards. Why in the world do I remember all of these things so distinctly? Because of Mrs. Long…my fourth grade teacher.
I loved Mrs. Long and she loved me. How did I know she loved me? I just knew. I knew by the way she never lost patience with me. I knew by the way she spent time with me outside of school and the letters she sent home to my parents. I knew by the way she gave me the important job of filling out her grade book because I had such good handwriting (probably illegal now!). I knew by the way she listened to me and never made my problems seem silly or inconsequential. I knew because she made me feel special. And although she never said it, I just knew deep down inside I was her favorite.
I may not have been the typical kid that often writes about the difference a teacher made in their life. I didn’t come from a low-income family or a broken home. I wasn’t suffering with a family secret, bullied, or having trouble making friends. I wasn’t struggling with my grades or a behavior problem. In fact, I was the complete opposite. I was a straight A student from a middle class, loving family with lots of friends. But I was a kid, like every other kid. Our differences didn’t matter; we all wanted the same thing. We craved adult attention. We longed to feel special. We wanted someone to really like us, not pretend to like us or like us because they had to, but really like us. We yearned for someone to truly care about all the things important to a ten year-old and Mrs. Long did all these things. I would venture to guess that every single student in her class that year felt like her favorite. That’s just the kind of teacher she was.
Wouldn’t it be huge if every child had a Mrs. Long in their life? Wouldn’t it be even more amazing if YOU were the Mrs. Long in a young person’s life? You don’t have to be a teacher to be a Mrs. Long, there are many other opportunities. Maybe it’s a child in your neighborhood or a friend of your own child. Maybe it’s the teenager in your Sunday school group or the young man you coach. Maybe it’s the pre-teen in your Girl Scout troop or the child who stops in your store often. Maybe it’s your niece or your grandson. Or maybe you are a teacher and to you I say THANK YOU. I see you emulating Mrs. Long every single day with many different students, each with a myriad of needs. And you do this year after year.
I never got a chance to tell Mrs. Long what an impact she made on my life. I don’t know where she is or where life has taken her in all these years. Maybe someone reading this does and I would love to hear from you! But in case I never get a chance to tell her, my humble way to honor her is to strive every day to walk in her footsteps and pass forward the most valuable gifts she gave me…her time, her attention, and her love. I fall short on a daily basis, especially with my own kids, but if each of us was intentional in our commitment to be a “Mrs. Long”, what a wonderful, loving world it would be!
Who was your “Mrs. Long”? How was your life impacted by the attention of a loving adult? I’d love to hear your story!