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Significant Influence: Ms Smith

I would imagine that, when asked to recall someone who greatly influenced their lives, many people would single out a particular teacher. This is my case, certainly, and I must say that my feelings about this individual are in no way diminished by the common aspect of the occupation. Children are highly impressionable, after all, and all it requires is one, distinctly impressive teacher to stamp a character for life.

A teacher named Ms Smith had influences on me, I believe, that I can never fully appreciate. This has as much to do with my being at the time as it does with her essence, her character, and her skills. I was nine years old when Ms Smith was my teacher, and in the fourth grade. I am aware that every year in a child's life is a milestone of some kind; we are growing in exponential ways, and each new age brings with it a multitude of experiences completely new to the child, as the world itself is just beginning to be revealed. At the same time, the beginnings of a kind of self-knowledge occur. That particular age, however, seems to me one especially important, for actual childhood is then being left behind, and the adolescent years are coming fast. I will always be grateful that, at this juncture, I was in the care of Ms Smith.

If I wished to romanticize the past, I would claim that she opened my eyes to the richness of learning, and to all the advantages to be had through a basic willingness to take in everything the world had to offer. I would relate how her own passion for learning took hold of me. The reality is somewhat different, however, and honesty demands that I recall Ms Smith as she was: a young woman, moderately attractive, well-educated, and a good and caring teacher. There was nothing striking or exceptional about her, really, and she most certainly did not invest me with a lifelong dedication to any pursuit in particular, or an endless craving to better educate myself.

What she did, however, was more meaningful to me because it was more subtle. With Ms Smith, I became aware for the first time in my young life that learning and a full, happy life could, and should, exist together. It was not that she made education “fun”; rather, because of her approach, I began to feel that any education was nothing more or less than what I would put into, and take from, it. She made me understand, and through no other means than her own expressions of her own nature and character, the scope of what learning could be in anyone's life. Most importantly, and unusual for teachers at this grade level, she reinforced to me that caring was crucial for real learning to be achieved. For example, I had some problems with math; it never came easily to me and, like most children, I resented and resisted the subject more because of this. Ms Smith let me know, through a relaxed and interested manner, that, even though I did need to get by in this area, it would not haunt me all my life, and that advancing years would give me increased freedom to focus on what I preferred. For the nine year-old girl that I was, this was a vista I had not expected. Suddenly, I had a sense that I would grow to make all these choices for myself, and I will never forget how empowering that felt.

“Ms Smith” is not, of course, her real name, nor do I know what became of her. I am convinced, however, that she gave something to her class most teachers of that grade do not: an awareness of the possibilities of life, and an idea that these possibilities were as boundless as the directions any of us might take. Ms Smith never invested me with a passion for any subject or field, but she gave me something much greater. In essence, she revealed to me that the school then, and the time then, were only components in the journey of a life. For the first time, I saw my class as a part of a temporary whole, and not as a ruling factor of existence, and this influence would allow me to expand my ambitions and my desires in years to come.

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