Teacher Appreciation Day 2016

I would like to take a moment today to appreciate someone who made a long-lasting impact on my life. It was in the 1992-1993 school year that I met this individual, and the lessons she taught founded my critical thinking abilities and continue to guide my decision-making 23 years later.

It was the summer of 1992 when I found out that my new 3rd grade teacher would be Mrs. Jerri Mahnensmith at Syracuse Elementary School. From the first day of class, she knew who I was…with my older brother and I looking so much alike.

She was a perfect example of kindness, patience, being joyful with and proud about your work. Β It saddens me now, as an adult, but I don’t think I ever took the chance in explaining this to her, and how much I appreciated all of those qualities. This was a particularly rough time in my childhood for my internal self, but it was her guidance that made me love school and even refuse to wreck my perfect attendance record because of a little bout of stomach illness. πŸ™‚

It was one particular lesson that I will never forget, among the many that she taught us that year. We began our first ventures into creative writing. As a child, I loved books…almost more than breathing. My previous teachers would sit me next to their bookshelves during standardized testing so that when I finished my tests in record timing, I could spend the rest of the 2 hours allotted, reading and letting my imagination completely free to soar and wander into new and magical places.

I forget the exact assignment, but I remember it was around April…possibly Earth Day. We had to write a story that involved the environment in some form. I got to work immediately; pencil flying across my paper. I was the first one done and brought my pages up to turn in. And then it was time to wait. I hadn’t planned ahead. (I rarely do, unfortunately.) She was the first teacher to really get the chance to evaluate my abilities as a writer, because we were learning more advanced grammar by the 3rd grade.

It was the encouraging words and well-deserved criticism on this simple little assignment that exploded the fire within me and made me passionate about storytelling. I know I was a handful this year, Mrs. M. and I’ve always been sorry for that. πŸ™‚

The one lesson that you instilled in me, that even today, I pass on to my own children is this:

It’s not enough to reach for the stars. Yes, it’s a noble effort, and requires a lot of hard work and sacrifice. But it’s not enough. Once you’ve reached that star, and believe me, one day you are going to reach it, you have to use that energy and force to reach beyond that star for the next one, and the next one after that, and so on. Never settle for your arrival, for it is just a launching point to get you to the next place. Never give up, and always…keep…reaching.

Even without intending to be so, you turned out to be not just my appointed grade school teacher, but my very first mentor and would go one to lay the foundation of how I would turn out as an adult.

And so, Mrs. M, I thank you more than I am ever capable of repaying, for the life lessons you taught, both the easy…and a couple not-so-easy ones. You always believed in me, even well after my 180 days under your care, and it is because of that belief, that I have the courage to pursue my writing…telling others the stories that are only crazy enough to be found inside my head, but worth more than the world to me.

All my love and best wishes to you and your family!

Chris VanderReyden πŸ™‚


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