I think I always knew I was going to be a teacher.
This is to say: I understand where Topher, Brand, and Steve are coming from in John David Anderson's new novel, Ms. Bixby's Last Day when the boys embark on a day-long quest to give Ms. Bixby the "last day" they thought she most deserved. When Ms. Bixby's health deteriorated and her "last day of school" came sooner than expected, the boys felt robbed of their opportunity to show their appreciation for the impact she had on their lives. And even though their personal motivations varied, their commonality was this: Ms. Bixby saw each of these boys for the people they were and she responded to their needs.
I could say kind words and share recollections of many teachers who made an impression on me along the way--I guess I'm lucky like that--but to me, the invitation to participate in this teacher appreciation blog tour in honor of Ms. Bixby's Last Day is for commending the Ms. Bixby's of our lives, and for me, my Ms. Bixby was Mrs. Vanier.
Mrs. Vanier was our interactive drama advisor. The main purpose of the extra-curricular club was to create and deliver open-ended skits about hot topic issues that allowed for audience interaction and participation at student awareness programs throughout our region and beyond. The club met on an as-needed basis, but we seemed to "need to meet" a lot. Although Mrs. Vanier and I never shared the traditional student-teacher relationship (that is, I was never a name on her class roster, and she was never responsible for teaching me content), she is arguably the teacher who taught me the most.
She educated me.
Quite literally, she took me out to practice driving when I was nearing my driver's test, and she taught me more than I'd care to admit about friendships and relationships. But of greater significance, she educated me about solving my own problems by listening, probing, reflecting back, and questioning. Her door was always open and she made opportunities for me to sort through whatever needed sorting so I could make my own best decisions. When my perspective was too narrow or too shallow, she broadened it. She modeled hard work and respect for the students she served.
She empowered me.
She instilled confidence. When I was looming beneath ugly middle school self-doubt and high school intimidation, she continued to make time for me, communicating through her actions that she saw something in me worth believing in. She guided me with gentle direction, but she always let me be the one making the choices. And I knew that whatever my choice was, her support was there.
She inspired me.
When you have the opportunity to be shaped by someone the way I was by Mrs. Vanier, you hope with your whole heart that the universe will allow you to pay it forward. I knew one day I would be a teacher. But the kind of teacher I aim to be--not only educating students, but empowering and inspiring students to be kind and compassionate and their fullest selves--that has more to do with my mentor and model. I hope my students, given the chance to read Ms. Bixby's Last Day, would agree.
Mrs. Vanier was my Ms. Bixby: the teacher with whom one less day would have been too few. She is a teacher with whom I felt I had a close relationship. She knew me when it seemed nobody else did. I was her favorite. But I'm sure everybody thought themselves to be, because that is how she made each of us feel.
I can't remember the last time I spent with Mrs. Vanier, except I know it most certainly wasn't long enough.
If I had to think up Mrs. Vanier's Last Day, I'd make all our plans. (I always did.) I'd drive, she'd ride shotgun, and maybe I'd let some old friends ride along, too. We'd blast Pat Benetar and the theme from "Friends" on the stereo and stick our arms out the rolled down windows, flapping them to pretend we were flying. We'd go to my tree. The one standing tall and exposed in the field on it's own, apart from all the clustered pines. We'd shop for scarves and sunglasses (ahem, with a more colorful name), and we'd make something crafty (probably not a wall-sized mural this time, but maybe), mistakes included. We'd reminisce about little jokes and memories, things that seemed big and life-dependent 20 years ago but would be mildly humiliating now (at best), things a lot like this that would make little to no sense to anyone else. And there would be laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.
Whose face do you see when you think back on the Ms. Bixbys of your life?
Congratulations, Brenda! You win!
Looking for more about Ms. Bixby's Last Day?
Read an excerpt of Ms. Bixby's Last Day.
Read John David Anderson's Nerdy Book Club post about Ms. Bixby.
WaldenTV has posted a video on their YouTube channel.
Connect with author John David Anderson on Twitter or Facebook.