I wish I had a photo of her, but unfortunately I don’t. Her name was Esther Waggoner and her third grade classroom pointed me in the direction of my life’s work: teaching. I feel certain she taught me multiplication tables, cursive writing, reading and many other academic subjects. Plenty of exciting learning takes place in third grade.
I remember another thrill that school year. Our old school building added a new wing while I was in third grade. In the middle of the school year we got to pick up our belongings in our arms and carry them to our new classroom. But none of these reasons are why I mention her here. It wasn’t the academics or the surroundings that made that year special for me. It was the enthusiasm of the woman in front of the classroom.
Mrs. Waggoner just simply taught with Joy. Messes didn’t seem to bother her. Noise didn’t freak her out. She loved children and she loved teaching. She honestly was having so much fun in her classroom that she made me want to grow up and enter a profession in which I could go to work and have that much fun.
At home my parents belonged to the “Go Play” philosophy of child rearing. “Don’t make a mess or too much noise. Do your chores and then go play.” I was fine with that. I never questioned it. I loved to play outside from the time my chores were done to the time the lightning bugs came out at night. I honestly had no complaints. I hadn’t experienced any other way.
Then Mrs. Waggoner appeared in my life. She actually played with her students. I studied her like she was some kind of personal science experiment. What was this? An adult who enjoyed playing with children? I had never met another adult like her. During the winter months when we had a long season of indoor recesses she let us push all our chairs back against the wall and set up bowling pins. We’d roll the ball knocking those wood pins down over and over again. She never flinched.
I remember one month when she even taught us how to square dance at recess time indoors. She’d clap her hands to the music and yell out those square dance calls with enthusiasm while we swung our partners and learned to do-si-do. She even danced with us when there was an odd number of students so no one would be left out.
I was hooked. From third grade on I wanted to grow up and enter a profession that allowed an adult to experience that much joy. Mrs. Waggoner is the reason I became a teacher. Of course I taught academics. Yes! Students won’t respect a teacher who doesn’t challenge them academically. But I first considered teaching because of the way that Mrs. Waggoner made me feel. I wanted to connect with young people in the same way she connected with me. It was Mrs. Waggoner’s joy that first sent me into teaching. But it was the connections I made with young people that kept me there. I’m proud to say that I enjoyed the profession as much as Mrs. Waggoner did.
When I finished college, can you guess where I began my teaching career? In third grade, of course.
I went to a small town parade this past weekend. I noticed that when military people and firefighters passed by, the crowd applauded. I was proud of everyone. It was exactly the right thing to do. I was applauding right along with them.
But somehow I wish that teachers were the recipients of some applause and not just the targets of the media and politicians running for office. It has become fashionable to criticize teachers just the way too many citizens dishonored our veterans when they returned from Viet Nam.
Great teachers deserve applause. We’ve even seen too many teachers protect their students with their own lives in the past decade. Today I applaud Mrs. Waggoner, the woman who taught with such enthusiasm that she pulled me toward this important profession. I hope I have made her proud.
TEACH…To Change Lives
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Dauna Easley is a speaker who has been invited to speak in 37 states.