As a teacher, you never know what affect you have on your students. I was an elementary school librarian for 30 years, and occasionally, a former student will tell me how much they enjoyed coming to the library and how they loved Max, my alligator puppet. Even though he never said a single word, everyone remembers Max because he would do things when I wasn’t looking and often tried to give me kisses on the cheek, which the children found hilarious. I’m always surprised, too, by which books people remember out of the thousands I read aloud. Former students have mentioned The Phantom Tollbooth, The Hobbit, Harry the Dirty Dog, Cracker Jackson, and The Thief of Always.
But what I remember from my elementary school days are two things my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. O’Brien, said to me. Mrs. O’Brien had one green eye and one brown eye, and one day I pointed this out to her. The minute the words left my mouth, my fifth grade self retracted in embarrassment. Of course she knew! She looked in the mirror every now and then, didn’t she? And no doubt her mother must have let her in on it. But she didn’t roll those mismatched eyes, or give an exasperated sigh, or shake her head sadly at my stupidity. She very kindly said, “Yes, Jane, I know.” And somewhere inside me, even at eleven years old, I realized something that changed the way I treated people from then on: that if it’s possible, you never make the other person feel bad.
And the second thing? I don’t recall the situation, but I can still see her standing at the classroom door. Perhaps we were going out to the playground. Perhaps we’d just come in from lunch. That part doesn’t matter. What matters is what she said to me.
“Jane, one day we’re going to hear great things about you.”
What a wonderful thing to tell a child—or anyone, for that matter. You’re going to do great things. You have a future. You’re going to make a difference.
Just like Mrs. O’Brien.