Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ms. Bixby's Last Day Blog Tour

I think I always knew I was going to be a teacher.
I think knowing my destiny made me a little more attuned to thing my teachers were doing for my peers and me, too. Or, maybe this is better attributed to growing up as the daughter of two passionate and committed educators. Either way, I knew what teachers were doing for kids, and for better or worse, I always positioned my teachers on a pedestal.

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? 

Comment below with a memory shared with your Ms. Bixby by July 5. One lucky comment-leaver will win a copy of Ms. Bixby's Last Day, generously donated by Walden Pond Press.

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.


  1. One of my college professors had a great impact on who I am as a reading teacher. Through her teaching I learned that being reflective can help me improve my practice, being knowledgeable about literacy instruction can help me provide the best instruction for my students, and being collaborative and sharing with colleagues can help me extend my reach beyond just the students I directly work with. Her teaching helped fuel my passion for literacy and want to strive to be not just a literacy teacher, but also a literacy leader. I am really looking forward to reading this book. It sounds wonderful!

    1. How incredible is that vision of all the spokes outward from her relationship with you! Thanks for sharing, Lisa.

  2. I had a teacher in high school, Miss Flynn, who was a brand new teacher. She challenged me to read books I had never considered, pushed my thinking about those books, and made me excited to read for class rather than dread it! She only stayed in our district a short while and moved on before I graduated. She made a huge impact in a short time. I've never forgotten her.

    1. A great reminder for all of us: it doesn't require a long time to make a difference in someone's life. How fortunate that Miss Flynn kindled your excitement for reading!

  3. Mrs . Allen, grade four . She taught us yoga and the artistic joy of penmanship and helped heal my very broken heart after my parents divorce. Looking back now, after years of working with students I realized the depth of the relationship she brought to the classroom. We wrote to each other until she passed away and I was an adult, many states away and raising my first child. I will never forget the safety and warmth of her room.

    1. Thanks for sharing the story of Mrs. Allen, Danette. What a combination of things "learned." I bet her impact transferred to your own practice.

  4. My Mrs. Bixby was my sixth grade teacher. The fact is that he was not a "real" teacher, he was emergency certified due to a teacher shortage in urban schools at the time. But it was Mr. Gelman who taught me to pursue my passion - writing. Mr. Gelman was ahead of his time. He had "genius hours" before they were in vogue. During these afternoons Mr. Gelman encouraged each student to follow their passion. My girlfriends loved to draw and so they drew. Some kids conquered math, others read, and I'm sure there were some boys who talked sports. I really don't remember because I was in my own little world writing. Mr. Gelman took the time to read my work, comment encouragingly, and push me to submit a piece to a kid's magazine. (I actually won that contest.) It is because of Mr. Gelman that I write today (for myself and my students), love teaching writing, and facilitate a National Writing Project summer writing institute. Thank you, Mr. Gelman.

    1. How fantastic, Brenda. I loved reading about how Mr. Gelman honored kids' passions. I know one of my hopes is that I let students into themselves in this way, providing them chances to find out who they are and then be really good at being THAT. Thanks for commenting.

  5. I would pick a professor I had while obtaining my masters degree in library science. Cheryl McCarthy, she was awe inspiring! Her dedication to advocating for school library programs made me know I was choosing the right profession and if I could advocate half as good as her I would be very successful. @capecodlibrary

    1. Kim, what a truth...so many of the Ms. Bixby's that influence us are the ones who inspire us to be better at our heart-matter. I love that Cheryl McCarthy is someone you admire for her advocacy. Thanks for sharing.