More often than not, my tears are caused by laughs but that is not the case today.
Our 17-year-old daughter, Olivia, was punched in the gut when she learned that one of the most influential teachers in her 10 years of schooling passed. It appears it was a freak accident involving a carbon monoxide leak which caused the gas to creep into neighboring townhomes. Many residents were hospitalized, and the misfortune took the life of one, Patricia Mann, Olivia’s AP World teacher at Cambridge High last year.
While helping me to cook dinner the evening that we learned the news, I asked Olivia why this educator had such an exhaustive influence on her during her sophomore year.
“She would talk with us and not teach at us” she told me. “She had traveled everywhere and always had a story.”
I received a message on social media from a parent that read: “My daughter had her as a teacher in Henry County and toured Europe with her in 2018. She embodied life to its fullest and loved her students passionately.”
Olivia was trying to avoid eye contact with me, and she was visibly shaken as we continued our conversation. As her dad, I began to hurt because of her pain. I can’t imagine the family’s level of pain after this emotional ambush, but I cried because I saw my daughter trying to process the loss of someone special in her life for the first time.
I feel certain we met at orientation and probably exchanged a few emails last year, but when your bear cubs join the high school ranks, we, as parents, lose some stewardship in the relationships our young adults forge with the people that surround them, including teachers.
Even the biggest underachiever can name a favorite teacher. We spend more time with our teachers, counselors, administrators, coaches, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and custodians than we do our own family.
I remember taking trips to Service Merchandise in Charlotte when I was a kid with my Granny. While waiting for our purchases to appear on the massive conveyor belt, former students, often with their own children in tow, would approach my grandmother with a hug, huge smile and cheers for the potency she had in their life.
Third grade was tough for me because my parents were divorcing and I was a mess wearing Husky jeans, and that’s on Burger Chef and no self-control. I was always a good student, but Mrs. Henderson noticed a change in my personality and a slow in my enthusiasm. I mentioned to her that dad was leaving, and I didn’t understand why and she hugged me. A top-three embrace in my life and one I still remember in times of darkness today.
Mr. Deal failed me in geometry my senior year, and although I was allowed to walk with my class, I did have to go to summer school after I turned my tassel. Our family went to the same church as Mr. Deal, and while in class he would beam while telling the story of my peeing on his polished Sunday shoes during the sermon when I was 6 years old. Although Mr. Deal refused to pass me and gave me my only “F” in high school, he was one of my favorite teachers. He was also my driver’s ed teacher which gave him another platform to share the story of my miscue in the sanctuary with other students listening in the backseat waiting for their turn behind the wheel.
Teachers have a special place in our bubble growing up, and that clout continues to affect decisions we make well into adulthood. It also triggers some of the most notable memories from one of the most innocent and formative periods of our lives.
God be with you Mrs. Mann. You have a front row seat in Olivia’s bubble, and as her daddy, I thank you.