My Hero

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I don’t think people know who my hero is.  I doubt my own children even know; they would say my it’s my grandmother, Nan.  And, so would most people close to me.  Nan was the best grandmother, and what I learned from her shaped my character, taught me far more than even she ever realized about reading and art.  She was strong and kind, and she always inspired me.  She touched every part of my life.  Nan was a superhero.

There are heroes, and there are superheroes.  Just ask any 8-year-old.  A superhero makes a difference to everything in your life, like Nan.  A hero is someone who touches your life in a very specific way.

Heroes inspire me, because then I become a better teacher.  There is one person, a teacher in Baltimore long ago, whose teaching made me stop and realize what’s really important.  When I read her story, I felt like I was walking in her footsteps.  Well, I felt like those were the footsteps I had to walk in.  I wanted to be just like her.  I needed to be just like her.  My throat still closes and my heart pounds when I read her simple story.  It is in the original Chicken Soup for the Soul book, published in 1993:

Love: The One Creative Force

A college professor had his sociology class go into the Baltimore slums to get case histories of 200 young boys.  They were asked to write an evaluation of each boy’s future.  In every case the students wrote, “He hasn’t got a chance.”  Twenty-five years later another sociology professor came across the earlier study.  He had his students follow up on the project to see what had happened to these boys.  With the exception of 20 boys who had moved away or died, the students learned that 176 of the remaining 180 had achieved more than ordinary success as lawyers, doctors and businessmen.

The professor was astounded and decided to pursue the matter further.  Fortunately, all the men were in the area and he was able to ask each one, “How do you account for your success?”  In each case the reply came with feeling, “There was a teacher.”

The teacher was still alive, so he sought her out and asked the old but still alert lady what magic formula she used to pull these boys out of the slums into successful achievement.

The teacher’s eyes sparkled and her lips broke into a gentle smile.  “It’s really very simple”, she said.  “I loved those boys.”

My copy of the book is worn, and the pages open-up to this story, because I’ve read it too many times to count.  It changed how I looked upon teaching and children.  I often write about an emergent or child-centered curriculum, and how that has led to the best learning.  Well, now you know where it started.  And, now you know who my hero is.  If I can fill her shoes and give children the same love so they can succeed, that’s all I need.


About Jennie

I have been teaching preschool for over thirty-five years. This is my passion. I believe that children have a voice, and that is the catalyst to enhance or even change the learning experience. Emergent curriculum opens young minds. It's the little things that happen in the classroom that are most important and exciting. That's what I write about. I was a live guest on the Kelly Clarkson Show. I am highlighted in the seventh edition of Jim Trelease's million-copy bestselling book, "The Read-Aloud Handbook" because of my reading to children. My class has designed quilts that hang as permanent displays at the National Liberty Museum in Philadelphia, the Fisher House at the Boston VA Hospital, and the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
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11 Responses to My Hero

  1. Lisa Besse says:

    So, it is Nan! Because she loved you beyond words! She taught you what being unconditionally loved felt like and how important it is, by introducing you to music and art, and most importantly, by showing you how to be the best Jennie ever. The story in the book just embodies Nan, and that teacher did what Nan did for you, and now it comes full circle as you pass it on! You were the lucky one!! Now your students are the luckiest ever. Do you think one of your students will go on to do what you do?

    • Hi, I’m Michelle, a “former” student of Jennie’s (25, and still learning from her, so maybe not quite a “former” student). 😉 While I am not a teacher, Jennie said this may be me you refer to when you ask if any of her students will go on to do what she does. I work in publishing (Jennie’s love of storytelling and reading), and part of what I do in publishing is to look at best practices and update them to make them better, find places where no best practices exist and make them, and teach others about them and why they are important. (so I AM a teacher, just of publishing professionals in my department and neighboring departments?) I’m also working on developing new publishing software, as my constant love of learning and teaching (like Jennie) makes me a perfect fit for that.

  2. Cyndy Premru says:

    I have goosebumps, Jennie! LOVE!!! You have definitely made a difference in my children’s lives – and mine! – from the love you gave them as their first preschool teacher.

  3. sportsattitudes says:

    Irony – this morning I found myself thinking of both my grandparents who passed on some time ago now. Both of them essentially raised me for at least for a couple of years of my life. My grandfather Gene was so stoic. He never complained, never missed a day of work in his steel mill…and still always had a smile and calm demeanor for and towards his kids and grandkids. He was my hero although it took until later in life to fully realize it. Excellent post on “super heroes!”

    • jlfatgcs says:

      Thank you! Within my teaching, heroes and grandparents, family and role models always creep into my curriculum and how I am with children. I think that’s why I make a difference. Gene and Nan would have been good friends, because they are two peas in a pod.

    • jlfatgcs says:

      Well, I knew better than to reply on my phone; too easy to hit the wrong button (like ‘send’). I left the comment hanging. Gene is everything I remember as a child and totally relate to today. I think Gene and Nan would have liked the story of the teacher in Baltimore. They’d simply smile, because they would just ‘know’, never make a fuss, just like the teacher in Baltimore. Aren’t we lucky!

  4. reocochran says:

    This was an amazing story since it had a study to prove those who had labeled those kids as “losers,” Jennie. We had a college professor who said if you switched the gifted kids “label” with the learning disabled, both would turn out better than expected. Just not listening to the other teachers in the high school lounge helped my Mom become a better teacher. She said she never ate in the teacher’s lounge, although she was voted, President of the teacher’s association. My youngest brother worked in inner city Cleveland for 20 years in a special ed learning center for all kinds of kids on I.E.P’s. When he met parents, he shook their hands. Every morning, he stood at the door and shook the kids’ hands. He told the parents his learning disability allowed him to take a tape recorder to college. Sports helped him to be confident. One man/father of a student said that by my brother showing confidence in his son, he had gone back and got his GED. I liked your 1993, “Chicken Soup for the Soul” story. Just had to add a few of my own. Yes, Mom, her sister, my Aunt and her husband, my Uncle, my brother and his wife and I were teachers. My brother and wife have their PhD’s and are professors.

    • jlfatgcs says:

      Thanks, Robin. I think it takes a teacher to ‘get’ the magnitude of the simple story of the teacher in Baltimore. Glad you liked it as much as I did. I enjoyed your family stories! Interestingly, it’s not teachers, but writers who predominately follow my blog. I will continue to keep searching for fellow teachers.

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