Looking back at some old notebooks from my younger days, I came across an entry that simply stated, “She said, ‘Smell my flower,’ to me today.” With those three words, I instantly found myself back in 6th grade and recalled the exact moment that seemed important enough to commemorate in my diary.
In 6th grade, I lived in Lexington, Kentucky with my mother and step-father. We had moved there from New Jersey when I was near the end of 5th grade. Under the guise that we were “taking a vacation” to visit our friends in Kentucky, our mother had checked my younger and sister out in the middle of a school day. After a week in Kentucky, we were told my mother and father were getting a divorce – and that we would never return to our school, our friends, our home, or our pets.
By 6th grade, a few months had gone by since the abrupt departure from New Jersey, but I remained miserable. I was still unsettled by the whole situation in every since of the word. But I was a good student who never caused trouble, so no one at school suspected the turmoil that was tearing me apart inside.
Mrs. Haney didn’t know my situation. But that didn’t matter. Mrs. Haney had no favorites in her class – everyone received special treatment. We all adored her because she adored each and every one of us. It was Mrs. Haney who asked me to smell the flower she was holding, warranting the entry I wrote that afternoon. Every interaction with her made me feel noticed and valued, and it had been a very long time since I felt that way.
In Mrs. Haney’s class, there was no distinction between the “cool kids” and “nerds.” We were Mrs. Haney’s class, and that made us all cool together. The same respect Mrs. Haney gave us, we gave each other – and her.
At the end of the school year, one of the parents hosted a pool party for our class. We invited Mrs. Haney. We weren’t sure she would attend, and the party started slowly as everyone waited for her arrival. She didn’t let us down. When she entered the yard, we all cheered and swarmed her. We knew that we were Mrs. Haney’s family; she would even spend time with us after school was over – and on a weekend! At a time in my life when I felt that my own family had been shattered, I had become part of another family that was supportive and whole.
In honor of Teacher Appreciation week, I would like to thank Mrs. Haney and all of the teachers out there who work so hard to make every child feel like a member of their family. Sometimes you do know that your students may be going through hard times, but often you don’t. The great teachers are the ones who help every child to smell the flowers so they can appreciate a world of promise, beauty, and love.