As I started to think about my experience of school over the years, one thing really jumped out at me. One particular teacher changed my life.
His name was Mr. Parkin. I don't even know his first name (we just didn't back in those days) but I do remember that he also coached the Primary School hockey team. He wore shorts with long woolly socks and seemed quite old to me at the time, which probably meant he was in his forties. Mr. Parkin taught me in Primary School for a year while I was growing up in a reasonably small town in New Zealand. He also paid enough attention to realise that I was struggling with my reading. Without making a big fuss (or not that I noticed) he found the time to pull me from class and arrange some one on one time with him to go over my reading skills.
I wasn't made to feel stupid and I don't remember anything other than enjoying being able to take my time sounding things out and making sense of what was on the page in front of me. He was patient and calm and friendly and I liked him very much. He made my lessons seem like we were just reading some wonderful books and it wasn't anything to worry about.
I remember one time we actually left the school grounds and drove across town to another school, which was a BIG KIDS SCHOOL (gasp) or Intermediate as we called it at the time. I had never been there before and it all seemed to be very exciting. Mr. Parkin and I sat in a little room with a large mirror on one wall and we read through some books like we usually did. At the end of the lesson he opened a door to the room next door and introduced me to three or four teachers seated inside. They had been watching my entire lesson through the mirror! (While I didn't find it scary, more interesting that a mirror could do that, to this day I find myself a bit suspicious of mirrors because you never know who might be watching you from the other side.)
Soon without any fanfare, the one-on-one lessons stopped and I do remember with pride that by the age of 9, I had a reading level of a 12 year old. I LOVED books. Suddenly a fantastic new world had opened up to me and I dove in. I remember being excited when the reading van came and we could climb up the big steps into the truck and pick out our books for the week. The musty papery smell of books and the solid feel of them in your hands. The plastic protective covers on the library books and inside the odd smear of jam or marmite on the pages or even a forgotten bookmark.
I was thrilled when my parents attended one of the school fundraising nights and purchased a new book for the school library. It had a sticker inside the cover with our names on it so I could proudly point it out to my friends. It was a lovely book about a family of mice who lived in a huge old tree with pages of exquisite lush illustrations that I still remember some 28 years later.
As you can see books still excite me and they have been friends to me during many confusing, boring and stressful times in my life. They have helped me escape lifeless airport departure lounges and rainy afternoons. A love of all books is one of the things I most want to hand across to my son.
But if it wasn't for the efforts of Mr. Parkin, who took the time to notice a little girl in a busy classroom, it might have all been different. I probably wouldn't have enjoyed school the way I did or made the same friends and I definitely wouldn't have gone on to University years later in Australia. Later I wouldn't have got the job with the company where I met my wonderful husband of now twelve years and, well you get the picture.
So here is a belated thank you to Mr. Parkin and all the other teachers out there who take the time to go that extra mile and make a difference to their students. I know that often, it is without getting any credit and in your own spare time.
Your students do remember you and you really do make a big difference to our lives.