I started my career by teaching 5th grade in a small, Title 1 school. One year, I had a young man, “Nick,” who was in the Gifted and Talented program. Once a week, he would leap up from his chair at 9:00, interrupt me mid-sentence, and declare, “It’s time for me to go to GT!” The way he raced out of the classroom like he was escaping a prison cell did not strike me as a great compliment to my teaching prowess.
One week, I ordered some live animals for a lesson from Region 20. They arrived a day late – GT day. Although I hadn’t planned the lesson to coincide with GT, I will admit I felt a bit of triumph when I saw the conflict in “Nick’s” eyes. He did not want to miss that animal lesson.
I gently said, “Why don’t you ask Mrs. Reese if you can come back to the classroom at 1:00 if you’re not doing anything important?”
Mrs. Reese, with all of the grace that she always displayed, gave “Nick” permission to come back to my class for the lesson. A less dignified person (like me) would have sent “Nick” back with the message that said, “How dare you imply what I do isn’t important?” But she didn’t, and “Nick” got to hold a snake, which elevated me to “not completely boring” in his eyes.
Mrs. Reese not only forgave me for my self-centered comment about the importance of her work, but began to encourage me to become a GT teacher. Vacant GT positions, however, are rare. I refused to pay the $300 for the training when I couldn’t even guarantee I could get a job in that field. Besides, I was slowly coming to the realization that I was a horrible teacher and it would be better for everyone involved if I found another line of work altogether.
I was planning my exit from education when Sharon Reese called me one evening.
“There’s a GT position opening up for next year. I think you should apply.”
“But I haven’t even had the training! There’s no way they are going to hire me!”
“You can train this summer. I’ll put in a good word. At least ask for an interview.”
I got the job.
Then I panicked. I knew nothing about this job. What was I thinking?!!!
Sharon calmly offered to help me plan for the new year. Over the summer, she and another wonderful teacher, Michelle Wallish, slowly coaxed me off the ledge and convinced me that I might have a chance of making this work.
That was 17 years ago. I am still a GT teacher. I love my job. I love my students. I have as much excitement about teaching as I did on my first day. And I do my best to make every moment of my students’ time with me important.
Sharon Reese retired a couple of years ago. My last words to her were to express the deep gratitude I still feel for her support and mentorship.
Sharon Reese died last Friday. On Saturday, I attended the service for this beautiful woman who touched so many lives with her kindness, love, and humor. As a wonderful tribute, her husband set up chairs at the cemetery and we sat in a circle to celebrate Sharon’s life.
Sharon’s son, Layne, told the story of a woman he worked with, but didn’t know very well, who needed a ride one night. When Layne realized where the young lady lived, he mentioned that his mom taught at the school in her neighborhood. Once she made the connection, the girl began to gush about what a difference his mother had made in her life.
Sharon’s wonderful husband, Pat, said that Sharon continues to receive letters of gratitude each year from former students – many of whom went on to Ivy League schools and successful careers.
Friends, family, and colleagues, we all had similar stories about the genuine, loving woman who, without fame or fanfare, enriched the lives of so many. Sharon Reese, a quiet, unassuming woman without a self-serving bone in her body, made an impact that would rival that of any million dollar athlete or Oscar winner.
I don’t know exactly where Sharon Reese is now, but I’m positive that she is continuing to do something important.
I just hope she won’t mind putting in another good word for me when the time comes.