It’s World Teachers’ Day today and, as I promised last year, I’ve chosen another teacher (from many) who had a lasting impact on my life. She was my first grade teacher, Mrs. Fern Giebel.
In 1955, there were 26 students in Big Sandy’s first grade and the majority of us had attended kindergarten together the year before so we were already acquainted. Mrs. Giebel had taught first grade for many years, so as you might expect, she was a kind but stern woman. She was a recognized good teacher, popular with both students and parents. She provided a fun but organized classroom experience with many projects and learning activities that I still remember more than 60 years later. I liked her very much.
I generally enjoyed school and, during these formative years, I learned some significant lessons. One particularly powerful lesson had a substantial impact on my thinking for the rest of my life. My first grade year in school was nearing its end and we had just finished reading through our Dick and Jane reader—remember those?—in our little reading groups of 10 or so. Mrs. Giebel asked the class which story from the reader we would like to read again. There were two or three clear favorites among my group but mine was not in the majority. When my friends, who had chosen the same story as I, started to change their vote to the popular opinion, I was soon left as the only one in favor of my original selection. I didn’t change my vote and, of course, we didn’t read my favorite story that day, but as the group prepared to read the most popular story, Mrs. Giebel turned to me in a private moment and said, “Good for you, Bob, for sticking with your choice when all the others went with the majority.” It wasn’t part of her study plan but that one moment had more effect on me than anything that could have come from any curriculum. That one comment was a huge reinforcement to me, even as a young 7-year-old boy, to always stand by what I believe, even if I might stand alone.
Since that day all those years ago, I have had many experiences of standing alone or being outnumbered throughout my life as I chose paths often “less traveled.” But the reinforcement I received as an impressionable young first-grader, to stand for what I believe, even if I may stand alone, has aided me throughout my life. I am so grateful for an outstanding teacher who took just a moment to teach me such a monumental lesson. Here’s to you, Mrs. Giebel—thank you!