Most educators, especially those teaching English, have at least one teacher that inspired them to learn, to read, and to follow in their footsteps. For me, that person was my seventh grade English teacher. She was warm, passionate, kind, and engaging. And her love for life and literature was contagious.
I don’t remember all of the tests we took or the papers we wrote, but I remember the reading we did that year. All of the students knew the procedure when we walked into Mrs. Keys’s class everyday. We went to the back wall and chose a book from her shelves, and for the first ten minutes of class, we read silently at our desks. This time was precious for me. It was a time to escape the tenuous challenges of being an awkward thirteen-year-old girl. It was a time to breathe and to stop for a moment. It was a moment of important quiet for this introverted book-worm. While others in the class complained, I relished it.
Mrs. Keys noticed me (and every other student in the class). She not only recommended books she thought I would like, but she often purchased new books to add to her classroom and let me take them home. I think I read almost every book on her shelf that year. I don’t know that she took particular interest in me or my reading habits, but at the time, it felt personal. I believed that she bought all of those books just for me (did I mention I was thirteen? And, therefore, as self-absorbed as many teens?)
Seventh grade was a particularly challenging time for me. I had been born with a heart defect, and that year, the problems had become worse. A few months into junior high, my doctors started me on an experimental medication, which meant I had to wear a heart monitor or carry one around with me at all times. I already felt awkward in my own skin, and this difference just made things worse.
One day during P.E., I collapsed. Some friends helped me to the cafeteria, where my mom worked (another awkward thing for a seventh grader). We weren’t panicked as we called my monitor results in. We were used to it and expected to hear what we always heard. That my heart rate was too high and that I needed to sit and rest. But, this time was different. The experimental drug had lowered my heart rate and blood pressure too significantly. My heart rate registered at 32 bpm and was crashing.
I spent the next couple of weeks in the hospital and the first five days of that in ICU. What I remember most during that time is the kind nurse who braided my hair and came in to talk to me even after her shift ended. I also remember getting a gift from my favorite teacher. All of my teachers were remarkable during this time. They included notes or cards with the homework they sent to the hospital so that I wouldn’t get behind.
Mrs. Keys also sent homework, but she sent something special along with it: a book just for me, Anne of Green Gables. This time, I knew she had purchased the book specifically for me. She even inscribed it.
I think you will enjoy this book about a girl much like you.
Love, Mrs. Keys
I was grateful for the book for a myriad of reasons. But, now, as a teacher myself, I am especially grateful that a woman who only encountered me during the school day was thoughtful and kind enough to not only recognize the kinds of books I liked, but who also was willing to spend her money to buy this awkward girl a gift she desperately needed.
I read the book while in the hospital. And my mom read it, too. I adored Anne, her vivid imagination, her adventures, her questioning mind, and her heart. It remains one of my favorite books when I need comfort. But, one of the things that makes me cherish this book is the fact that a woman whom I admired thought I reminded her of Anne. Mrs. Keys’s generosity and kindness left a mark and showed me the kind of teacher and person I wanted to be. And both my teacher and Anne taught me that “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”