I was the First Grade. All by myself. There were thirty-two students in the entire school, grades 1-12. Mrs. Nadine Martin wore a rhinestone pin and matching earrings every day. She was the definition of beauty to me although she stood a little over 4 feet tall, had a lazy eye, and was shaped like a barrel.
One day, Mrs. Martin asked me to work with Missy, a student who was having trouble understanding syllables. Missy thought "cowboy" had four syllables. The funny part was that the way we Hillbillies pronounced it, it did have four syllables: "ca-yuh-bo-wee." I worked with Missy at the back of the room and by the time recess was over, she could sing and stomp her foot to the "Cow-Boy" Song.
Mrs. Martin hugged us both and said, "Why Deborah, I do believe you are a BORN teacher!"
I stuck my chest out and replied, "Yes, Ma'am. I am."
That, as they say, was that. I believed in Mrs. Martin so much that I trusted what she saw in me, even though I could not see it in myself and certainly not in my circumstances. College seemed as far out of my reach as the moon.
When I enrolled in community college years later as a non-traditional student, I was married and had a year-old baby who had been diagnosed with autism. I drove 80 miles round trip every day to class. My friends and family accused me of getting above my raising and of acting uppity. I didn't even know what a college "hour" was. When the counselor asked me if I intended to be a full-time or part-time student, the only thing I could compare it to was the factory work I'd seen my mother do: 40 hours was full time, right? So I enrolled in 24 college credit hours and figured that was part-time. I was making good grades but I thought, "Man, they weren't kidding! College is TOUGH!"
Here I am, three degrees later, wearing a rhinestone pin with matching earrings every day to honor Mrs. Martin's memory as I round out my 12th year of teaching. Nadine Martin is still who I want to be when I grow up. She died before I could tell her what she had meant to me. But in the same way I remember a teacher who changed my life because she believed in me, I hope my students will remember me as someone who encouraged them to let their little lights shine. Now that's an education.