Sunday, September 5, 2010

Thank you, Mrs. Volz

I can't forget something that Lynn Heinzman said after his wife, a much-beloved teacher's aide at Hamilton Heights Elementary School, died suddenly in 1995.

Lifted by the outpouring of support after her tragic accident, Lynn said he didn't think Peggy knew how much she'd done for her students. I remember wondering if a teacher as well-liked by students and parents as Mrs. Heinzman didn't know that, how could any teacher?

The answer was obvious: Parents need to tell them.

Too often, we forget or let the opportunity pass us by. Sometimes it's hard to see a teacher's effect right away. That certainly was true in our family, as signs started appearing in the spring but the indelible mark one teacher made on my son wasn't apparent until recently

As the crocuses bloomed, Christopher began injecting dinner conversations with morsels about discussions in his sophomore English class. Not a lot of explanation, but still a surprise from the young man who preferred eating in silence to talking about school.

When trees flowered, his comments budded, telling what he'd added to the discussions and what others had said.

I heard something I could hardly believe when we were feeling summer's heat. Christopher quickly answered "English" when my brother asked, "What was your favorite class this year?"

English? Really? Just a few months earlier his answer might've been, "the last one of the day."

As his first week as a junior wrapped up, Christopher made me see the signs as clearly as if he'd turned on the neon when he said, "I'm going to see Mrs. Volz."

Joy Volz was his sophomore English teacher. She had encouraged him to speak out, but more importantly, she listened to what he said then gave feedback to his comments.

Mrs. Volz had inspired this teenager to become a student.

Before this school year was 5 days old, Christopher was buying a binder to organize his papers. Homework was getting done every night, and it was in the binder, by the door, each morning. At dinner he was talking about most of his classes, and he recommended that I read his recreational reading book. Labor Day weekend, he vowed to show his history teacher -- who he also had in freshman year -- that he's "learned to be a student."

Thank you, Mrs. Volz, for engaging Christopher in class. Thank you for not just letting students talk, but listening to their viewpoints and respecting their perspectives. Thank you for chipping away at a hardened "I don't care" attitude to release an "I will do this" commitment.

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