Twenty-five years later, I do not remember a ton about first grade other than making friends and playing on the playground at Saxon Heights Elementary School in Dublin. But one particular moment involving my teacher, Corinne Kaboli, really stands out to me.
Fortunately for me, during my childhood I was seldomly sick and rarely had to miss school. But during the last week of first grade, I caught Chickenpox, which was painful enough to still be seared into my earliest memories. But what I’ll really never forget is when Mrs. Kaboli, who I remember as a generous and sweet woman, called my mother to check up on me and even drove to my house to bring me my assignments so I could finish up the school year. That helped me feel like I was still getting to participate in school long before the days were thought of where you could log onto a computer and join a class from home.
That kind gesture, one that perfectly captures the heart of so many teachers and the love and passion they have for their students, has always stuck with me, and the heartwarming memory came flooding back a few months ago when I received a Facebook friend request from none other than Mrs. Kaboli, now enjoying retirement. And it was on my mind again last weekend as I went to the store to pick out a gift for my son’s kindergarten teacher for Teacher Appreciation Week, which is being celebrated this week across the country.
Teaching is among the most important professions in our society — though that might not always be reflected everywhere when it comes to teacher salaries and education funding debates — and while it’s always been challenging for those who have taken up that vocation, I would imagine these times have been the most challenging. Teachers are being put under a lot of pressure and scrutiny these days as more and more focus is placed on preparing students to be workers in an ever-changing, increasingly competitive global economy and they are expected to meet and satisfy even policy metrics brought on by various mandates, often unfunded ones.
Add in all the chaos of the last year and the coronavirus pandemic, and it seems that teachers are being tested in ways that they never have been. With that in mind, my son’s teacher at Timothy Road Elementary in Athens has more than earned our appreciation this year. In Clarke County, schools were entirely virtual from the start of this academic year to early November, and then again from January through the end of February as COVID-19 case counts soared to peak levels. It must take remarkable determination and patience to be able to keep the wheels together on a Zoom class with 14-16 kindergarteners and great skill to still give them the vital education they need at such a critical age. And, ss I’ve witnessed for periods of several weeks throughout the school year, my son’s teacher has excelled at doing just that, with a smile on her face at all times, and helped all of the kids have fun being at school in some incredibly trying times for our world.
It takes a special person to not just be a teacher, but to make a real and lasting impact on young people’s lives. In this job, I’ve talked to and heard stories about many in this community and I wish I had time and resources to write about and spotlight more of them. I was reading in a Clarke County schools newsletter recently about the 2021 STAR Student at Cedar Shoals High School in Athens and how he chose his STAR teacher because she was the driving force behind a student mentorship program that has helped students not only tutor their peers to improve their academic performance, but to teach those student leaders involved in the program to be advocates and use their voice in an effort to secure more learning resources. There may be no more accurate saying than “it takes a village.”
There are so many people in our communities making an impact on our children’s lives, in other people’s children’s lives, and therefore building a stronger future for their communities. So in that spirit, and in being reminded of the kindness Mrs. Kaboli showed toward me 25 years ago, I wanted to spotlight some of the other teachers I’ve had over the years who impacted me and made a difference in my life.
•Dianne Allen, my seventh- and eighth-grade social studies teacher, who sparked my early and lifelong interest in U.S. and international politics and relations, but more importantly was one of the first who really helped me realize the importance of pushing myself academically.
•Carol Stroberg and Cindy Claxton, my high school English teachers, who not only introduced me to great literature and fascinating figures in literary history, but who encouraged me to expand on my knack for writing and helped me learn to become an effective writer, skills that have helped me in this line of work.
•Susan Thornton, my high school, U.S. history, world history and government teacher who taught me much about different world cultures, how various societies throughout the globe are connected, how crucial it is for us to understand how easy it is for bad history to repeat itself if we’re not careful, and how to convey those ideas by writing about them and making connections between the past and present.
•the late Lawrence Hall, my 12th grade anatomy and physiology teacher, who not only taught me about the human body, but more importantly demonstrated to me and countless others the importance of compassion and empathy for our fellow humans and always trying to look for the good qualities in people.
•the late Louis Foster, my high school band director, who not only helped me gain a deeper appreciation and love for music and the ideas composers and artists often try to convey with their music, but who had a unique ability to be a good friend to all of his students. He was one who was always there to listen, at all hours, and was there for me and some of my other schoolmates through some difficult personal times. When he passed away a few years ago, many of his former students described him as being like a second father, myself included. And I imagine, for some who weren’t as fortunate as me to have a father in my life, he was a primary father-like figure.
This is far from an exhaustive list, as I was blessed to have many strong teachers growing up in Dublin. And I’ve not only mentioned the several high-quality professors I had at Georgia College and State University — like Cliff Wilkinson, who helped broaden my understanding of the inner workings of government structures and public policymaking and learn to argue multiple sides of various issues, or Macon McGinley and Pate McMichael, who drilled into my mind the importance of journalism, especially community journalism, and taking pride in my work.
But I hope those reading this will think of the teachers who had similar impacts on them and those who are making that impact now on your children and grandchildren.
Wherever you are, take the time this week to thank a teacher.