“A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination and instill a love of learning.”
This quote by Brad Henry reminded me that role models teach us through their examples. It does not matter what era they lived in, what their background was or even their age. They inspire us whether they taught in a classroom or taught through their experiences.
With the difficulty of choosing just one female role model out of many possibilities, I kept returning to someone who exemplified this quote in my life and for many other people as well. Her name is not famous outside the circle of her colleagues, students she taught, and their parents but she had a huge impact on my life.
Miss McLaren taught elementary school her entire career. She never married or had a family but thought of her students as her children, encouraging them to succeed beyond their wildest dreams. I was fortunate to have this woman as my first teacher. She reminded me of a grandmother with her snow white hair and very sensible shoes. She had rules in her classroom which must be strictly adhered to but she also let each one of us know she cared about our success. She expected us to do our best and once we mastered the basic skills, provided challenges for those of us that needed it.
I remember the delight in escaping into books once I learned to read. She always had a stash of extra books in a cupboard at the back of the room. What a great carrot to dangle in front of me to get my work done quickly and correctly so I could spend time with my imagination in the stories the books held captive.
I began school at a time when the curriculum for grade one did not come close to today’s must-learn subjects for the beginning of elementary school. She thought it lacked and did not take into account what six-year-olds could absorb. So she challenged us. Since I attended a split grade one-two classroom, it was easy for her to add extra work for us to learn. All we had to do is pay attention when she taught the second grade. I loved learning. She inspired me to keep learning more.
At the end of the year she requested our class stay together in a split grade two-three classroom. The board agreed. By the end of my second year in school I had completed all the grade three work too and the year-end testing showed a number of us did as well as anyone in grade three or better. It took many years for me to realize she had a hidden agenda. She planned to use us as an example to change the curriculum to provide a better education for primary grades.
Joyce Meyer said, “Teachers can change lives with just the right mix of chalk and challenges.” Miss McLaren did just that. She knew how to challenge her students, encourage them to keep learning more than the prescribed curriculum and instill a love of learning that, in my case, has lasted for life. To me that is being a great role model.
I continued attending the same school until I completed grade eight. Miss McLaren kept tabs on her former students even as she challenged her newest charges to love learning. Even once she retired and I moved on to high school and post-secondary, I kept in touch with her. When I visited in her home she proudly showed me scrapbooks she kept with successes her former students had achieved, grinning like a proud mama might. I even invited her to my wedding but her health did not permit her attending. My husband and I made a quick stop at her home on the way to our reception and she gifted us with a hand crocheted table cloth she had made just for us.
A good teacher can inspire and she did. She inspired me to work hard, love to read and always do the best I can and to become a teacher and storyteller. She believed in me and this gave me hope I could achieve goals I set for myself. She ignited my imagination when she taught me to read. So many new worlds opened up, places to explore in the pages of a book. I could and still can get lost for hours in a good story. My love of learning can be traced back to when I began school. Miss. McLaren made learning fun and exciting without gadgets or media. She instilled a love of learning for learning sake and other teachers built on the foundation she laid. Most of all she inspired me to be a teacher who challenged students, loved them and showed them compassion.
This quiet, grandmotherly woman offered me a great example of what a good teacher should be for their students. Her influence to never stop learning, always reach for your goals and enjoying reading remains long after she is gone and I have retired.