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May 3, 2016 / Retirementallychallenged.com

GratiTuesday: Happy National Teacher Day, Miss Miller!

Today is National Teacher Day, a day set aside to honor those who make special contributions to the education of our society every day. Although I have had many wonderful teachers over the years (including those who teach the adult learning classes I attend now), one of the most inspirational teachers I had was my first grade teacher, Miss Miller.

Miss Miller was the kind of teacher any kid would be lucky to have. She was energetic, creative, patient, challenging, loving, and so much fun. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to be faced with a classroom of 7- and 8-year-olds, most who hadn’t mastered the ability to sit still for any length of time, few who understood the concept of using their “inside voice,” and even fewer who had any idea what to expect and what was expected of them. Because our class had a combination of first and second graders, her job must have been even more challenging.

First Second 1963a

Although we entered her world with different childhood experiences and varying skill levels, on that first day we were all lumps of clay. Over the school year, Miss Miller skillfully worked her magic and slowly molded us into 30 young humans who, in addition to our academic lessons, learned to do our best, be nice to others, play fair, and to find joy in the process of acquiring knowledge.

I met some of my life-long friends in Miss Miller’s classroom. We made our way through grade school together and many of us went on to attend the same junior and senior high schools. Although our individual circumstances have changed over the years, the bond is still there.  One was my Maid of Honor, I was a guest in another’s home in Hawaii for 3 weeks, and I recently traveled to La Paz with still another.

From one of those friends, I was thrilled to learn that Miss Miller was still living in the area and was as healthy in mind and body as ever. I asked my friend if she could set up a lunch for the three of us so I could see my favorite teacher again and tell her how much she meant to me.

Out of that lunch came the germ of idea: we would gather together as many students from our first grade class as we could for a Thank You Miss Miller celebration. We figured that we couldn’t be the only two who remembered Miss Miller with a special fondness.

We reached out to as many of our classmates as we could and asked each one if they were in contact with any others. Pretty soon, we had about 20 email addresses. Out of those 20, we were able to get commitments from 10 – not bad from a class of 30 students who, over the 50+ years in between, certainly had moved on, both figuratively and literally. Happily, we discovered that we all still shared an appreciation for our teacher.

Group 2

The luncheon was a splendid success. Miss Miller (who will always remain Miss Miller to us even though she tried to have us call her Cynthia) was thrilled and touched by our show of gratitude. Her students—most of us now in our early 60s—had a delightful time catching up and sharing memories. As a special memento, we presented her with a book that contained thank you notes from each of us and our pictures, from first grade and now.

I am so grateful not only that I had the privilege of having Miss Miller as my teacher, but that I was able to thank her in person so many years later. How many 60-year-olds get to hang out with their first grade teacher?

Happy Teacher Day to all the amazing and dedicated teachers out there. You have made a difference in our lives and we are forever grateful to you!

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30 Comments

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  1. snakesinthegrass2014 / May 3 2016 1:21 pm

    That was a such nice thing that you all did. I’m sure she was as thrilled as each of you were.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 3 2016 2:58 pm

      You could tell that she was very touched. And, we were amazed by her memory – way better than mine! She told stories about each of us, and our families (my older brother had her for his teacher too).

  2. Carol Ferenc / May 3 2016 2:34 pm

    Love this post, Janis! What a wonderful thing you did for Miss Miller. In general, teachers are so under-valued in our society that it’s a shame. It’s heart warming to hear stories like this where there is a true, lasting connection between teacher and student.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 3 2016 3:03 pm

      Where would we be without teachers? It’s hard to understand why some people who do so little for the good of society, can make so much money whereas teachers – who do so much – sometimes struggle.

      • Carol Ferenc / May 4 2016 6:15 pm

        You are so right, Janis!

  3. Encore Voyage / May 3 2016 5:26 pm

    Janis, that is soooooo cool! I have had a few experiences when former students came to tell me the good things that had become of them – it always makes me cry (happy tears for sure!) I’m positive that Miss Miller felt the same way. You were, and always will be, one of “her kids!”

    As for me, I will be forever grateful for Mrs. Young – my 7th grade English teacher who taught me to diagram a sentence, while teaching me to love Shakespear! – Now that’s an amazing teacher!

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 3 2016 8:20 pm

      There are several lessons I wish I could be taught again and diagramming a sentence is one of them! I never could get that through my thick skull. Mrs. Young sounds like a true inspiration. Have you ever thought about sending her a note of thanks?

      • Encore Voyage / May 3 2016 8:50 pm

        I should try to look her up – along with several other influential teachers! 😀

  4. Keith / May 3 2016 6:13 pm

    Janis, what a wonderful story and tribute to Miss Miller. You made her feel as special as she was and is. There are probably countless classes like yours that she influenced. Keith

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 3 2016 8:27 pm

      You are exactly right. In fact, there are a couple of educators who are writing a children’s book based on the letters she had her students write to famous people. She didn’t just teach out of a book; she made her lessons come alive.

      • Keith / May 4 2016 6:44 am

        That is a book worth reading by new teachers who are feeling unappreciated and all parents to lend support.

  5. joannesisco / May 4 2016 4:39 am

    It must be such an odd experience for a teacher to encounter the students from their past and see them as the adults they have become. I know we experience it with our own children, nieces, nephews, etc but this is a bit different. Like you said, each child they get in their classroom each year is a random lump to clay.
    I can see why she would be so very touched by the experience of having you all come together to honour her ❤

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 4 2016 11:06 am

      I would imagine that a teacher gets an impression of the student based on their interactions in class – this one is shy, this one is focused, this one is creative, etc. But then life happens and we all go through major changes (especially from age 8 to age 60!) and often become very different people. Her memory of one of the attendees was that she was painfully shy – hardly ever talking in class. That same woman is now very self-assured and accomplished. I think she was really pleased with how well her students turned out, and extremely proud that we remembered her so fondly.

      • joannesisco / May 5 2016 4:28 am

        That’s a very interesting point … I think even our families have a tendency to put us in a certain *bucket* and miss the subtle nuances as we get older and mature.

  6. Kate Crimmins / May 4 2016 6:35 am

    What a wonderful story. I went to a Catholic elementary school where two grades shared the same room and teacher. My class was 18 students. I don’t have a lot of fond memories of any of the nuns except one. I also don’t have many great memories of my high school teachers either except maybe my algebra teacher. Most kids didn’t like him but I liked his no nonsense approach because we got right down to business. He said I could be a nuclear physicist if I could learn to add correctly. All my formulas were great but my simple math always had an error. In today’s world of calculators and programs, I could have done it easily. One of my English teachers encouraged me to write but for the most part, most didn’t reach out to me.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 4 2016 11:12 am

      I’ve heard that those nuns can be pretty intimidating! I wish more teachers realized what an impact they could have if they’d only reach out and take some extra time with students. I remember a high school teacher who sat down with me privately and said that I wasn’t applying myself to the extent that she knew I could. She was absolutely right, and being called out like that really hit home. I changed my attitude almost immediately and did much better from then on.

  7. laura bruno lilly / May 4 2016 12:14 pm

    This is too precious for words…

  8. Terri Webster Schrandt / May 4 2016 9:02 pm

    First of all, excellent post and so gratifying for teachers to be recognized. Secondly, how amazing that you could get together to honor her! My beloved high school teacher at Helix High School (La Mesa), Myrra Lee, was National Teacher of the Year in 1977. She is celebrating her 90th birthday in San Diego in July (and I can’t come down then). I wrote a post about her. Well done, Janis!

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 6 2016 8:29 am

      I remember that post! Being named National Teacher of the Year must have been such a honor for her and thrilling for her students! Teachers are so important to our society yet they are often undervalued and unrecognized. It’s wonderful when we get the opportunity to tell them how much they meant to us.

  9. dconnollyislandgmailcom / May 4 2016 10:48 pm

    This is an awesome post, Janis — truly one of my favorites!
    Donna
    http://www.retirementreflections.com

  10. betsysbeat / May 5 2016 9:18 pm

    This is amazing! How many times have we thought “Wouldn’t it be great if…..” but you actually followed through and had this wonderful reunion. What a terrific gift for you all and for Miss Miller! And this is all so much more achievable now with social media. You have inspired me….

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 6 2016 8:33 am

      Oh, I hope my post inspires a few people to look up a favorite teacher and maybe send them a note of thanks.

  11. lisadorenfest / May 6 2016 3:44 am

    OMG I love this post. I love that so many of you were able to get together and celebrate Miss Miller. Brought a tear to my eye. And that school days photo looks about the same layout as ours – made me laugh… and feel a little homesick.

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 6 2016 8:38 am

      Those class pictures were almost interchangeable. A group of gawky kids with pudgy faces and unfaltering haircuts (who could have predicted that two of them would become models).

  12. Kathy @ SMART Living 365.com / May 6 2016 8:36 pm

    Hi Janis! How very cool that you’ve staying in touch with all those women AND that you were able to have a lunch with Ms. Miller. While I’m still friends with a couple of girls from high school I must admit that I don’t know where any of the girls from younger years are–and as for the teachers–who knows? ~Kathy

    • Retirementallychallenged.com / May 7 2016 1:29 pm

      Many of us attended elementary, junior high, and high school together, probably a combination of living in a stable community (lots of families who were there for generations) and the fact that the schools were pretty big so comprised a lot of neighborhoods. And, of course social media has made it a lot easier to stay in touch.

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