Today, Mrs. Grace Adkins, my 90 something-year-old mentor, took time to eat lunch with me at Dairy Queen in Camilla. She’s been on the podcast before. Mrs. Adkins is still directing the learning lab at my old school and alma mater, and she is still fighting for kids. She’s been teaching for fifty-nine years. By the time we had lunch at 11 am this morning, she had already ridden her bike for 2 hours, read some books, made some phone calls, and done quite a few things. Then, she took an hour and a half with me to catch up, share stories, and remind me why I’m an educator. She’s the finest one I know besides my Mom.
She told me stories about my Mom and how she worked to help her three girls – me included – be our best. It reminds me that every parent is a homeschooler of some kind.
Excited about Her PD Tomorrow
Mrs. Adkins is passionate about professional development tomorrow that she’s going to attend on classroom management. She has her notebook ready and is going to take notes so she can put them in her filing cabinet and pull them out in case someone needs it.
She remarks that it surprises her how many teachers attend professional development and sit at the back without a notebook. (I wonder what we think of the students who do that? She’s an eager learner – something we should all be.)
She’ll be back at school learning tomorrow. She has perfect attendance for the 2018-2019 school year and so far, this school year 2019-2020 also has perfect attendance. (If you asked me her age, I believe she’s around 92 or 93 but who is counting. Every day is sweet, and every year is sweeter.)
The Habits of a Woman Living a Full Life
First, we talked about the book I gave her last year for Christmas, Atomic Habits. A fantastic book.
She let me photograph the notes she wrote in the front of her book about her schedule. Mrs. Adkins is one of the most disciplined people I have ever known. She was my second-grade teacher, and I remember how she inspired a love of art in me as well as a love of reading. In her notes in the front of the book, she says,
“I am a very structured individual. I plan each day, each week, each month and each year.”
Mrs. Adkins is a big reason that the two of my children who have learning differences (don’t you dare say the word disability – I’ve seen her take on a state legislator who made the mistake of saying learning disability in her presence) – but she’s a big reason for my children’s success. She gives wise advice and helps us understand and reach every child. I could go on and on.
Mrs. Adkins’ Daily Schedule
Let’s look at her daily schedule that she let me photograph from her book. These are the words she wrote in her book:
- I arise at 3:00 am
- I ride my exercise bike for one hour, seven days a week (Note: I ride my exercise bike another hour every evening.)
- I have my morning meditation
- I then bathe and dress for school
- Then I have breakfast
- I am in my car at 6:00 am
- I arrive at school at 6:30 am
- The first staff member comes at 7:00 am
- Everyone else arrives at 7:40 am
Talking about Teaching
We shared quite a few stories of some students we both know and others we each have known separately. We rejoice in those kids who some called hopeless, and some who didn’t think they could but are now succeeding every single day.
I asked for advice on some situations and students I’m working with now. She’s so eager to help people. Anywhere a child struggles, she wants to help.
She gave me a book on Autism, and I gave her another of my favorite books, The Power of Purpose, by my pastor and another person I consider a mentor, Dr. Michael Catt. I told her some of his remarkable story and his leadership in our church. She told me some stories of some extraordinary mentors she has known too.
As I gaze into her brown eyes, I see only bright gleaming brilliance shining back at me. This woman who never misses school and rides 120 miles a week on her stationary bike is as intelligent as ever if not even more so since she picked up her exercise schedule a few years ago.
But we also talked about some struggles we’ve had as we advocated for children.
Remembering Who We Are As a Teacher
As I left her, I was struck by something deep and profound. A great teacher can help a child want to come to school. A great teacher can unlock a life and bring joy. A great teacher can make a world of difference because that child never stops giving back to the world. A great teacher brings joy today and happiness for the rest of a lifetime.
A teacher who could be great but misses the point can not only bring heartache but can almost destroy a child. I don’t even like to use the word “bad teacher” because I believe all of us teachers can do the right thing or the wrong thing on any given day.
But the habit of intentionally doing right by children can make you great. When I mess up, I want to fess up.
I pray for the wisdom to know when I’ve gotten off track and to be someone like Mrs. Adkins was and is to me.
And she never stops.
She showed me some of the things she had written in the front of the book I gave her last year,
“I am very fortunate. I met Vicki in 1976. What a blessing in my life. I miss her. She is unique, special and brilliant — a shining star!!!”
I am crying as I write this. I am crying because when I knew I had to move schools and that it was the right thing, I was broken to pieces because I was afraid of telling her. And when I told her, she cried, but she said she understood and knew it was the right thing and that she would always support me.
She is my teacher.
Her name is Grace, and she always acts with it.
And here she is, and I’m 50 years old crying from five sentences she wrote about me in front of a book I gave her. Here I am reading something over and over and taking a picture of it so I can look at it and remember who I am.
She thinks I’m unique! My teacher thinks I’m a blessing! She thinks she’s fortunate because I’m her student! She says I’m special! She says I’m brilliant! She called me a shining star!
Do You See Who You Are?
Do you see how I’m hanging on my teacher’s every word? How I’m fifty, and I’m crying like a second grader all over again?
Do you see the power that we teachers yield and wield?
And if you can’t see the importance, beauty, and power of teaching and just what a positive life-force you can have every day, then would you wake up and understand?
Teaching is not a job; it is a joy.
Being a teacher is not a have-to; it is a get-to.
Children are never a bother; we are fortunate to have so many of these blessings running in and out of our room every day.
The discipline, attitude, and devotion of a person who gives her life for the love of learning and children make her truly more beautiful than any Hollywood Diva and more sacred than most church services. Teaching is a work of heart.
In case you’ve forgotten, teacher, you have a noble calling. Live it. Do it. Be it.
And if you have a mentor or a teacher who you still love and admire, call her or him and have lunch. You might find – like me – that you’re the one who leaves better for it.
The words of our teachers echo forever in the halls of our hearts.
So, speak well, dear teacher.
Speak the truth.
This profession of teaching can put a little slice of heaven on earth or could make life a living hell for some child.
So, what’s it going to be?