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For all you teachers out there, a tribute to my 4th grade teacher…

June 23, 2011

I wrote this last year to honor Ms. Randolph on her 80th birthday. She taught me 35 years ago at St. Mary’s, where she continues to teach to this day! This goes out not only to her, but to all you amazing primary and secondary teachers who are making reading and writing come alive for your students…

Twenty-three years after graduating from college, I returned to school to get a Master’s Degree in Professional Writing. Though I have been down many roads in my life, I came back to the classroom because of an undying attraction to reading and writing — to literacy.

Though I had been out of the classroom for more than two decades, when I returned it immediately felt like home. There is no doubt in my mind that the homing signal that beckoned me back to school emanated from a certain fourth grade classroom in which sat a lively soul on a stool, with reading glasses on her nose and a copy of Charlotte’s Web in her hand. Her voice sounded different from other people; it had a mysterious quality to my fourth-grader ears, like she was from another place. In that room, a love for reading and writing was imparted to me and countless others. Really, I should say that this love of literacy was “transmitted” to me, as one transmits an infection to another. Ms. Randolph had an infection, and the only cure for her was more books to read, more stories to tell, more songs to sing, more poems to recite, and more wonderful characters to bring to life. As hervoice rose and sank along the countless narrative cadences, my heart eagerly followed.

The miracle that Ms. Randolph performed in our lives was not the result of some amazing teaching technique or incredible curriculum; it was the fruit of a life on fire. John Wesley said “When you set yourself on fire, people love to come and see you burn.” That’s what it was! Ms. Randolph was on fire, and we couldn’t help but watch. Even when I neglected my literary soul for years, that fire never left me, it never went completely out. It only took a little breeze blowing across my heart to renew the embers and put me back on track.

Ms. Randolph was also the librarian, and her little library at St. Mary’s became my place of endless discoveries. There I learned how to dive into a book and enter the story all by myself. She introduced me to Rascal the Raccoon, Mole, Ratty, and Mr. Toad, Sounder – a boy’s best friend, Stuart Little, The Rats of Nimh, and the furry characters of Rabbit Hill. Yes, I was particularly drawn to animal stories, but people stories sometimes grabbed my attention as well. How could I ever forget Lucy Fitch Perkin’s wonderful variety of twins? Or the amazing adventures of Professor WilliamWaterman Sherman in The Twenty-One Balloons?

You get the point. My life and the lives of thousands of others was irrevocably altered by this magnanimous master storyteller. Seeds that were planted in us ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years ago are still bearing fruit today. As for me, I recently joined the National Writing Project and became a teacher consultant. I am now part of a team providing teachers with exemplary classroom practices for empowering literacy in young people. In my mind, the objective is pretty simple: I want to take the fire that Ms. Randolph put in me and pass it on to them.

We cannot express enough our gratitude to you, Ms. Randolph, for your amazing determination to serve patiently and diligently all these years. Surely you cannot take full credit, because what you have achieved in your teaching career can only be described as faithful stewardship of a gift from God. So I must say, above all, thank you for being faithful.

Yours Truly,

Greg Graham

1972 Fourth Grade Class

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