At the end of a fall school day, little Lori came bouncing up to my desk. With bright, effervescent eyes, standing almost on the tips of her toes and with a look of expectation, she gushed, “Mr. Mackenzie, I won’t be at school tomorrow because my mom is taking me to a dance competition in Calgary. Can you tell me what my homework is?” With that she thrust a small, coil-bound memo pad, already opened to a blank page, across the desk. She then handed me a pen, and waited.
I was brand new to Grade 5. I had been teaching junior high for 14 years, but I recall a small swelling of pride—I did know what we would be doing the next day. I jotted her homework assignment in her notepad and then did what I thought was just a little thing. I added, at the bottom of the page: Good luck in your dance competition. Then I signed it: Mr. Mack. With that, I forgot about the incident.
Months later, likely in May or June, Lori appeared at my desk carrying an oversized album which she kerphlumped onto my desktop. With her usual bubbly enthusiasm she proudly announced, “Mr. Mack, this is a collection of all of the stuff about my dancing this year. Would you like to look at it?”
What could I say?
Dutifully, I began flipping through the pages, glancing up occasionally to see the smile that makes teachers mindful of how important our approval is to students. She absolutely beamed as I passed the ribbons, the certificates, the pictures of Lori with her class, of Lori with her instructor, of Lori wearing far too much eye make-up to match her rosy, rosy red cheeks. I oohed and aahed in wonder.
And then I came to it. About three-quarters of the way through this collection of important memorabilia was the bottom half of the page from her memo pad that I had given her in the fall. She had torn it so that only the “Good luck in your dance competition, Mr. Mack” remained.
As I look back on a lifetime of teaching, this incident reminds me of the power of a teacher’s words, that what a teacher says is seldom “just a little thing.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jock Mackenzie is a retired teacher/administrator from Red Deer, Alberta. During his 30+ years in education, he taught mostly language arts and drama. He continues to be involved in public education by speaking at conferences and professional development days. His first book, Essay Writing: Teaching the Basics from the Ground Up, is available from Pembroke Publishing (www.pembrokepublishers.com). You can reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website: www.jockmackenzie.net.
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s January 2009 issue.