We all have somebody in our life who teaches us important life lessons, for me, it’s Mrs. T.
Two months after losing Preslee, I started my last year at BYU-I. I was enrolled in practicum, a six credit class. I spent two full days in an elementary school classroom, and the other three days in a two hour class at BYU-I. I remember my first day on campus, the instructor took two hours explaining what was required of us in order to graduate on to student teaching. I walked away not recalling any information. I had tried to listen and focus, but it was as if my brain didn’t work. Grief was taking its toll. I panicked. How was I going to to pass this class? That night I prayed that the elementary school teacher I was going to be assigned to would be understanding of my situation.
A week or so later, I received my placement letter and was surprised I would be working with Mrs.Thomason at Madison Middle School, the same middle school I had attended as a child. Mrs. T. wasn’t my 5th grade teacher, but from what I had heard I knew she was one of the best.
I still remember talking to Mrs. T on the first day in her classroom. At the end of the day, she asked me how my sister was doing, she explained she had heard about a Sullenger who had lost a child, and expressed her condolences… I still remember her face when I told her I didn’t have a sister, but it was me. Her response, “Oh I’m sorry! I didn’t think it could be you, you look so young!” I remember feeling relief that my situation was officially out in the open.
I know for a fact Heavenly Father was mindful of me when my instructor placed me in Mrs. Thomason’s classroom. I was blown away by her talent for teaching. She was exceptional, and it was clear teaching was her passion. She quickly became my teaching role model. Though she was intimidating to work with, she never passed up an opportunity to teach me, and pushed me to become a better teacher. She only accepted the best from her students, and she held me to the same standard. It was tough semester.
Though she was lovingly critical of my teaching skills, when it came to personal matters, she was the exact opposite. We spent most of our prep time discussing whatever was on my mind. She listened as I spoke about Preslee, and was there for me when I cried. She gave me advice when I needed it most, and urged me to continue writing on the blog when I became overwhelmed and wanted to quit. She helped me brainstorm the Pay It Forward Project, and actually suggested the name for it. She was my constant cheerleader, and continually reminded me I was stronger than my grief. I give a lot of credit to Mrs. T. for helping me make it through the darkest moments of my life.
I eventually left her class, and graduated after student teaching. She dropped off a present when Ledger was born, and not too long ago was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. I was heartbroken. I sent her note in the mail with a necklace with “I Can Do Hard Things” written on it. I shouldn’t have been surprised when I immediately received a letter back, thanking me for the necklace, and stating as hard as life had been lately, she knew it was for her own good, and was grateful for everything the trial was teaching her. She knew she would be a better person in the end. Once again, she amazed me.
This past weekend, Mrs. T. passed away. Not only have I grieved for her, but an entire community has as well. She taught for 27 years, and her reach was immeasurable. My thoughts have been focused on her the past few days, and I wanted to record a few things she she taught me:
1. Demand perfection. Fifth graders really are old enough to exclusively write in cursive 🙂
2. Use my “infectious laugh” for good. It’s one of the best ways to communicate with children.
3. Though religion isn’t accepted in the classroom, don’t think for a minute that it’s okay to teach without it. With prayer and working alongside the spirit, I’ll be able to unlock the “treasures” hidden inside each child to see their true potential.
4. I took this from Facebook, but she continually taught this to all of her students. “An educated ‘nice’ heart is what it takes to live a worthy life…an educated heart is who sees injustice and works to correct it…an educated heart gives generously of themselves and their talents to improve and serve the community around them.”
And though these are just a few things, the biggest lesson she taught me was the importance of love. For my Birthday, Mrs. T. gave me a book called The Lesson, (if you don’t have it, I suggest you buy it), which is about a student named Robert, who attends school, and is asked to solve story problems. Gradually as he gets older, the problems become more difficult. In the beginning Robert fights it, and asks why he is being punished, but the teacher reminds him the problems are for him to solve, and that he must complete them. Robert continues to solve each problem given to him, and continues to move up a grade each time. After a lifetime full of lessons, Robert becomes an old man, and the teacher asks him one more question:
“How much have you loved and who will remember you after you are gone?”
In that moment Robert realized all the lessons he had learned throughout his life had really been only one problem,
“Robert, how much do you love?”
After I read the book, I remember Mrs. T. looking me straight in the eyes and telling me the longer she lives, the more she realizes life is about love. We’re here to influence others with our gifts, and help individuals along the way. Look to Christ for guidance, He spent His life spreading love. She urged me to not take an entire lifetime to learn this lesson.
I write this post in hopes of remembering. I hope to remember how blessed I was to work with such an incredible person, and I hope down the road when I read this post it will trigger all the different life lessons I learned from Mrs. T.Whether it be in the classroom, or outside, Here’s to hoping I grow up to be half the person she is.
Follow Ashley on her blog: www.sullengers.com
Story written by: Ashley Sullenger