I was reading a post in the “Teachers” sub-Reddit last week where a college student asked if it was weird to reach out to a former teacher to tell them what a difference they made in the student’s life. I immediately encouraged the person to find a way to communicate this to the teacher because it has never, ever been weird for me to hear from former students. In fact, it’s the best gift I’ve received over the years.
In the past, I’ve written tributes to some of my own past teachers:
- Sharon Reese’s Legacy of Love (a teaching colleague who changed my career path)
- Thanks for Helping Me to Smell the Flowers (my 6th grade teacher who embraced me after being uprooted unexpectedly)
- Thank You for Believing in Me More Than I Believed in Myself (my high school geometry teacher)
- The Best Responders (an acknowledgement of all of the work teachers do)
Today I want to publicly thank another high school teacher, my choir teacher, Mrs. Toni Collins-Gosney.
I still remember when I auditioned for choir, belting out “Keep on Singing,” by Helen Reddy. In retrospect, I can’t believe Miss Collins didn’t laugh out loud at my ridiculously earnest performance. Instead, she welcomed me into the choir, and nurtured me throughout the rest of my high school career.
In choir, I learned how to collaborate with a diverse group of students, to compete, and to never give up. There were so many times when we were in singing competitions and things looked hopeless, only to emerge victorious at the last minute. I had never been a “fighter” (perfect example — whenever playing tag, as soon as the person who was IT got close to me, I just stopped in my tracks, put my head down, and let them tag me) but Miss Collins taught me to make improvements and persevere.
She had high standards, but she was close with our group of young women (all-girls school) and never played favorites. One of my favorite memories is traveling with some of them to Mississippi to sing at her wedding.
With encouragement from her, I made the All State Choir. My family didn’t attend what turned out to be a life-changing experience for me, but Miss Collins did. She also often stayed with me, sitting in front of the school at midnight, long after every one else had been picked up, without ever making me feel guilty for my family’s tardiness.
As my senior year rolled around, Miss Collins suggested I go into music, but I never thought I could be as good as she was. I did decide to go into teaching, however, and won a few scholarships to good schools. One of them was in my hometown. Although it covered four years of tuition, room and board was not part of the package. Living at home had become an untenable situation, and Miss Collins offered for me to come live with her and her new husband. Although I didn’t end up taking her up on the offer, her generosity was never forgotten. When I later became a teacher, I often remembered the many times she went above and beyond for me, and tried to extend the same kindness to my students whenever I could.
I ultimately accepted a scholarship to another school, in San Antonio, where I still live. I lost touch with Mrs. Collins-Gosney over time, but when I finally decided to open a Facebook account, I searched for her. To my surprise, she was easy to find and we became friends after over 30 years.
I continued to keep music as an important part of my life, and I imagine that passion is one of several factors, including an inspiring music teacher of her own, that prompted my daughter to participate in her own school choirs from elementary school through high school.
Last year, my daughter began her college studies with the goal of becoming a music teacher, and I think she might just live up to the woman I held in high esteem for decades, both in kindness and skill.
So, I just want to thank you, Mrs. Collins-Gosney, during this Teacher Appreciation Week. You were such a wonderful example to me as a musician, adult, and teacher — and I worked hard to “Pay It Forward” throughout my own career as an educator. I am glad we found each other again so I could express my gratitude, and I hope that anyone who reads this makes an effort to thank a teacher who made a difference.