Monday, April 12, 2010


Mrs. Maggie Vaughan has retired from teaching school. I see her picture in the local paper occasionally, smiling as she poses with trophies for winning senior adult tennis tournaments. She is beautiful, and she still has a smile like sunshine.

Mrs. Vaughan was an extraordinary teacher. She truly was one of those people who made all the difference in the world in the lives of her students.

Coming from a rural community and familiar with only a very small circle of people, I was an extremely shy first grade student. Extremely shy. I am shy by nature - still shy at 46 years - but my shyness became particularly acute when I first plunged into the sea of humanity called public school.

I loved school - I was smart, eager to please, and enjoyed the work. But I was petrified by the overwhelming number of people. I would sit mute in class, not talking to or looking at anyone, barely able to answer my teacher with the quietest whisper when called upon. No doubt I wore that "deer in the headlights" expression for the first several weeks of class!

A few weeks into fall classes, each parent had to schedule an appointment for a one-on-one conference with his child's teacher. My Mom drove the twelve miles from home to Central Elementary and met with Mrs. Vaughan. During that conference, Mrs. Vaughan explained that, as a professional educator, she had some concerns about my mental condition. She suggested I undergo testing to determine if I might be slightly mentally retarded. (I'm sure there's a euphemism for retardation these days, but remember, this was 40 years ago when folks were much more matter-of-fact.)

Mom was stunned. "I know Camille is not retarded," Mom protested. "She is a very bright little girl!"

Mrs. Vaughan listened attentively to Mom's defense of my mental abilities. Mom felt sure that the "symptoms" Mrs. Vaughan described were a consequence of my extreme shyness, and she explained that I probably felt a bit overwhelmed by the culture of first grade. Mrs. Vaughan spent the rest of the conference working with my mom to develop a plan of action for my educational future.

I think I became Mrs. Vaughan's #1 project over the next several weeks. She slowly, carefully, ever-so-gently drew me out of my shell and helped me engage more and more as a student. Mrs. Vaughan communicated somehow that I was precious to her and she made me feel safe in a strange environment. She transformed first grade from a trauma to an adventure.

I completed first grade with flying colors and eventually went on to graduate highschool at the top of my class. An academic scholarship paid for my education after highschool. And now, I teach children myself. Amazing!

Can you imagine how very different my life would be if not for this one teacher who respected my mom's input, then took the initiative and sacrificed her time to know me, to understand me, and to help me grow? I could have been pigeon-holed as unteachable, anti-social, incompetent, locked into a category and set on a lifelong track of frustration. It scares me to think what my life might look like now had it not been for Mrs. Maggie Vaughan.

Funny thing is, Mrs. Vaughan probably doesn't even remember Camille Stricklin or her peculiar situation. How many hundreds of students passed through her classroom over the years, each of them with unique needs and personalities? Still, forty years later, this former first-grader gets a lump in her throat when she thinks about Mrs. Maggie Vaughan. Thank you, Mrs. Vaughan, for making all the difference in the world in my life.

Do you have a similar story - of a teacher who radically impacted your life for good? Someone who made all the difference in the world to you?


Christian gal issues said...

Camille, I too have a story, but first it involves a horrible second grade teacher who decided I was stupid, useless and a disruption. She sent letters home to my parents and humiliated me in front of the other kids. By the time January rolled around my mother and father realized that her letters home each week were lies, but the damage was already done. I was a shy, inward, scared, insecure little girl.

BUT, Mrs. Cerrina, was my saving grace. She was my third grade teacher and pulled me back into the world of the living. She put a smile on my face and a love for learning once again. There are still scars, but they don't run as deep thanks for Mrs. Cerrina!! It is because of her I became a teacher.


Anonymous said...

I saw the full spectrum of teachers in high school. I had some that genuinely cared about their subject and their students- the ones who went the extra mile planning ways to make learning exciting. I had some who played favorites to members of sports teams or other teachers' children. I had a science teacher who gave the entire girl's softball team A's and allowed the class to watch BET(the minority television channel, I know you don't have TV) and play cards. Most of my teachers fell in between those two extremes. It really is hit or miss in public school...