Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Thank You to My Brother's Teacher, 40 Years Later

We all have one. A teacher who holds a special place in our hearts, who will forever be remembered and cherished. They may have gone the extra mile, believed in you when you didn't believe in yourself, or even pushed you when you didn't think you could accomplish something. But the impact they made on your life is something you will always remember.

Mine is a woman named Mrs. West, who I am still in contact with today thanks to social media. When I was placed in her class in the 2nd grade I cried. I begged and pleaded with my mom to switch me to a different class, Mrs. West was mean and everyone knew it! My mom told me that if I still felt the same way in a month, then I could switch. Well luckily she gave me the freedom to make the choice on my own. She ended up being my most favorite teacher of all. She was my teacher in 2nd grade, 3rd grade and even for a few classes in 8th grade. That's a small town for ya! She was something special, and by the way she wasn't mean at all. Strict, yes, but she was loving, gentle, and helped instill confidence in me. She will forever be "that" teacher in my heart.

This brings me to the whole reason I'm writing this post. My brother Danny has been talking about his Head Start teacher Karen ever since I can remember. He's 13 years older than me so it seems like from my first memories as a kid I can remember him talking about this awesome teacher of his. My brother has a memory like a steel trap and can recall things that happened when he was 4 or 5 years old that blow me away. He talks about how she was encouraging, loving, and she wholeheartedly believed in him. It impacted him in a way that stayed with him, for over 40-something years to be exact!

About a year ago my brother picked up his phone and called the information line. Who knew that still existed!? He asked for Karen by name and the town she taught in, which was in California. He was connected to a lady on the phone. Danny giggles when he recalls how he said in his deep voice, "hello, this is Daniel, I am Karen's student from 1969, I was 4 and 5 years old when she was my teacher." The woman on the other end was Karen's sister-in-law, and she knew Karen would be absolutely thrilled to hear from one of her students. 

When Danny and Karen connected over the phone I wondered if she really remembered him. This was over 40 years ago, and as a special education teacher she had taught many many students in that time. Well they started talking on the phone quite frequently.  Not too long ago Danny excitedly told me that Karen was coming up to Oregon to see him, along with her brother. What? She is? I thought he was surely messing with me.

Last week I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Karen in person. She and her brother came all the way from California to see my brother. Let me say that again. They came all the way from California to see my brother, 40-something years after she had him as a student!! They stopped by my house to meet me and my kids. When I opened the door Karen proclaimed "You look JUST like your mother!" It brought a huge smile to my face. It was wonderful to hear her talk about my mom and my brother. Hearing about Danny as a little boy, just Luke's age was so neat to me.

She helped Danny pick out gifts for my kids, coloring books, crayons, pads of paper and more. The boys knew the story behind Karen so they were showing off everything they knew, writing their letters, putting together sentences, counting, you name it. They were excited to have a teacher in the house and she seemed genuinely impressed! I got to sit and chat with her about her life, how she had been a teacher in Head Start and went on to be a speech therapist. She is now retired from teaching. I loved hearing about her students with Down syndrome who she has watched grow up into independent adults. She had such uplifting and positive information to share with me. 

And as to whether she really remembered my brother? She absolutely did! She remembers details such as his favorite movie as a kid. She remembers how smart he was and how funny he was, even way back then! She cares for him so much and it shows. While visiting Danny they even had dinner at my mom's with my other brother Matt and sis-in-law Diane, then went to the casino with my other brother Kevin. She got to meet part of our big crazy family and she said it was one of her best vacations ever. She said she and her brother never stopped laughing.

Danny and Karen
Danny and Karen's brother Dave

Uncle Danny and Ellie
The whole group!
Karen, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I hear a lot about how I will have to fight for Ellie once she's in school, be her advocate, and that it won't come without major challenges. I have been avoiding letting my mind go there because I know at age 3 she will be in the ECSE (Early Childhood Special Education) program and will be out of EI (Early Intervention) where we are now. I feel safe in this place and so the thought of her being in school scares me. We are only a year away! Fear was creeping into my heart, but meeting you has replaced that fear with hope. I am so grateful for teachers and human beings like you. You genuinely care for my big brother and I hope and pray that Ellie has her own Karen someday. Thank you!!

For this week's song I thought about my bro and his favorite music. He loves his Irish tunes and is so proud of his heritage. One of his most favorites (besides Wild Rover) is Danny Boy, hmm I wonder why? Here is a great version by one of Danny's favorite singers, Johnny Cash.


  1. So sweet. What a wonderful woman! Teachers can make or break a child's glad she made a difference.

  2. Beautiful story and as usual, beautifully written my friend!