I don’t know if you remember much about being in kindergarten, but I sure do. And what I remember most is my teacher, Mrs. Ellis.
She didn’t speak a word of Spanish and I hardly spoke a word of English. But she liked me. That’s all I knew on my first day.
Mrs. Ellis knew what to do. She called me “honey,” and I knew by the way she said it that it meant something nice. During those first days of school when I couldn’t understand a thing at all, I’d hear her call to me with that special new English word, and I felt safe.
She was one smart teacher. She knew when I needed to sit next to her during a lesson. She knew when I was ready to start interacting with my classmates more and she helped me make friends. Mrs. Ellis was looking out for me.
Years later, when I became a teacher myself, I sometimes had struggling students in my classroom. By then, I had a college degree and education training under my belt, and, of course, my English was better than my Spanish. But even with all my training, when I worked with my students, I simply had to ask myself, “What would Mrs. Ellis do?”
Because Mrs. Ellis knew what every good teacher knows: It’s not just the particular topic you’re teaching that matters, but how your students feel when they’re sitting in your classroom.
Most of us don’t remember every single thing we are taught in school, but boy do we remember forever when a caring adult at school showed us that we were going to be OK. We remember when something was hard to figure out and we had a teacher help us take a deep breath and try to solve it another way.
I check myself every day to be sure my actions are doing right by Mrs. Ellis.
At Monday’s Giants game, I got to stand on the field to celebrate a few outstanding teachers who were nominated by parents, peers and the community as San Francisco Teachers of the Year. Though they are certainly impressive in their own right, I couldn’t help but see a little bit of Mrs. Ellis in each one.
May is National Thank a Teacher Month. If you had a Mrs. Ellis, or your child does, or you know of any teacher who has had a profound effect on his or her students, take a moment to find that teacher and say thank you.
For more ideas about ways to thank a teacher, go to www.thankateachertoday.org.
Richard A. Carranza is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.