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The Courage to Become


Teachers Change Lives

Teachers Change Lives

Originally published on 11-10-13

Some of my earliest memories include school teachers, both good and bad. There was Mrs. Smith who was harder on me than on anyone else in the class, there was Mrs. Everitt who adored her students and taught me how to do neck exercises, and there was Mrs. Vos who gave me a wide open space to discover and learn just what kind of student I wanted to be. Teachers have the capacity to impact students from September through May, and then some.

Well, a few days ago I was working a wine tasting event in my hometown of Weslaco and I looked up and saw Mr. Richard Vos. He is my second grade teacher’s husband. Not expecting him to remember who I was I said, “Hi my name is Catia Hernandez and I…” “I know who you are,” he said. He remembered? I was so happy that he did. My voice immediately went up a few octaves. “How’s Mrs. Vos? It’s been so long since I’ve seen her!” He said she was doing great and had returned to teaching from her hiatus. I asked if she would be stopping by the wine tasting and Mr. Vos told me she was at swimming practice and that he didn’t think so. Since I was eager to catch up with her I asked for her email address. I told him I was really excited to see him too, but Mrs. Vos…Mrs. Vos! I couldn’t wait to send her a note.

I continued serving wine for the next 30 minutes. “Moscato? Ok. Cabernet? Coming right….Mrs. Vos!” Mrs. Vos was standing right in front of me!  I came out of my skin with excitement. I came out from behind the serving station and gave her a huge bear hug and a kiss. I attacked her with love.

“How are you? Oh my goodness, it’s been so long! I just have to thank you for being so great. You impacted my life in such an amazing way. You taught me how to write and you even rewarded me by letting me be teacher for a day!”  Along the way I have had some incredible school teachers, but Mrs. Vos was extraordinary.

Mrs. Vos taught us how to write compositions and I’ve been writing ever since. One time we event wrote a “How to make a banana split” composition. As a fun Christmas party activity our parents came in the classroom and made banana splits EXACTLY how our compositions instructed, so if we forgot to write, get the ice cream boat and place it in front of you, our banana split ingredients would be place nicely on our desks. She was so good at approaching each student differently and I was no different. She knew exactly what motivated me. So as a reward for being chosen as a Super Star I was allowed to be Teacher for a day. (Every 6 weeks we received our report cards. Additionally the teachers chose outstanding students deemed, Super Stars. Super Stars were rewarded in different ways, one of which included a school wide parade. Super Stars would parade through the school hallways, in crowns and sashes while the high school fight song played over the speakers. People would clap, parents would visit, and flowers were gifted. It had my name written all over it. It was ALWAYS my goal to be named Super Star during the first 6 week period. Just to make sure I set the tone for the rest of the year.) Being teacher for a day included dictating the day’s activities all while sitting….at the teacher’s desk! It was jackpot gold for a Type A 2nd grader. It was awesome.  And however small of a gesture, it was my first leadership experience and I was hooked. I bet if you dropped me off at Memorial Elementary I could navigate my way back to our old classroom.

I continued to catch Mrs. Vos up on what I was doing these days. “I’m writing a book,” I told her. I think her eyes welled up but maybe it was just the glare of the fluorescent lighting. “I can’t thank you enough for investing in my life,” I told her. She replied with, “Thank you. Not all our kids thank us as fervently and success stories are always a joy. You were always a very….” And she held her hands straight in front of her and finished with “focused.” Whewh! “You were always structured and focused.” What’s not to like about that?

I went to public school all my life and had a great experience. I was blessed with dozens of caring, thoughtful teachers and Mrs. Vos was the cream of the crop.

Thank you to all the wonderful teachers who work countless hours and give all that you have to your craft. Your work and efforts are felt long after students leave the classroom. In 1991 I was 8 years old and Mrs. Vos’ student. It’s 2013 and I’m 30. More than two decades have passed and I still hold her and those classroom experiences close to my heart.

When you get, give. When you learn, teach. At our best we are all teachers. - Maya Angelou

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