As a former educator, Teacher Appreciation Week is nostalgic for Mary Field. The Arizona K12 Center staff member takes a moment to honor one of her favorite childhood teachers.
Last year, as I was cleaning out my student library, I came across a book, Gregory, the Terrible Eater by Mitchell Sharmat. The book is a silly story about a goat who eats healthy food, so his family takes him to the doctor for a plan to get him back to eating junk food. I had no clue where it originated from and concluded it was likely a secondhand store find from my early years of teaching. I tossed it aside to my book giveaway pile that I was offering new educators in my building who, like myself, spent significant time in those first few years building a student library.
While my colleague and good friend, Kelley, was sifting through the book pile, she found the book. She opened it and read the note written inside: “Mary, Congratulations for reading 100 books in first grade. May 3, 1990, Mrs. Betts.”
Kelley immediately let me know I could not get rid the book. It just so happened, Kelley’s first-grade classroom was in the same place where I taught first grade for many years. The book suddenly became a marker in my teaching journey — I was leaving my work in an elementary school community for the first time since beginning my teaching career in 2006.
This Teacher Appreciation Week, I think of Mrs. Betts. She was one of those teachers who impacted my life in countless ways. She had high expectations, but daily learning in her classroom was fun. I have vivid memories of dressing up in costumes for readers theater experiences, measuring 100 steps down our hallway on the hundredth day of school, and engaging in plenty of unique pieces of artwork. The best part of Mrs. Betts’ class was that she taught me how to read. I loved going home every night with my Basal reader, curling up on my bed, and rereading aloud the story from our small group that day. The very best days of my first-grade experience was getting to sit next to Mrs. Betts on an old and green, velour couch for our routine read aloud. Each first grader felt special when it was their turn to see the illustrations next to her before she turned it to show the rest who sat patiently waiting on the beautiful red carpet in front of the couch.
I think of Mrs. Betts often. I reflect and wonder if my students think about me in the same loving way that I cherish my favorite teacher. Mrs. Betts simply made learning fun. Whether it was our stinky class turtle named Taco, stringing cheerios on necklaces to learn repeated addition, or sitting on her special couch when she read aloud, these memories have lasted my entire life.
Mrs. Betts passed away in 2016, and I wholeheartedly believe that my students benefit from her legacy. She not only helped mold my love for learning, but she exemplified great teaching. Mrs. Betts, along with a handful of other teachers, inspired me to be the very best for my students on a daily basis. It’s those days when the glue, glitter, and messy projects seemed too exhausting to facilitate that I thought of her and realized it was what my students were most excited about. It’s those days when pulling one more reading group of wide-eyed ready-to-read children seemed too much to handle, I rationalized that it could be the day that a student will remember the most. It’s those afternoons when I wanted to jet out of the classroom to head home for a much-needed nap but stayed to prep the next day’s writing assignment because it would make the lesson more impactful.
These are the days I think back to the amazing educators, like Mrs. Betts, who gave their all to their students’ learning. For that, I am forever grateful to have teachers who taught me what it was to be an exceptional educator.
On behalf of the students I have taught and myself, thank you, Mrs. Betts and the millions of other amazing educators, who have shaped the educators of today.