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Making strides in the classroom - April Avison

Just about everybody can think of a teacher who changed their life. We all remember that teacher who made us feel special or encouraged us to follow a dream.

I've always been a little bit amazed at the impact a teacher can have on students, often without even knowing it. I was reminded of this phenomenon when my favorite aunt, Aunt Sue, called me last week to ask for my help in editing her Teacher of the Year application form.

She was chosen as Teacher of the Year at the intermediate school in Texas where she teaches. The application form she was working on would be sent in to the statewide competition.

Aunt Sue called me last week from a Sonic drive-through in the rural Texas town where she lives, grabbing a bite to eat in between leaving school at 6:30 p.m. and going to a meeting to plan her 30th high school reunion.

I questioned her about some of the items on her application, which she'd previously e-mailed to me. As she began to tell me stories of her 20-year teaching career I realized how lucky those students are to have a teacher like her.

She teaches special education in a low-income school district, which is admirable in itself. She reaches the kids who have been labeled "hard to reach."

She told me about a child in her class who had confided in her that he was afraid of the dark and was worried because the electricity was about to be cut off in his home, presumably because his parents couldn't pay the bill. Aunt Sue choked up as she told me, "I can't turn the lights on in his house, but I bought him a flashlight and told him it was going to be OK."

I was so touched to think of her taking the time to buy a flashlight for this student, for going out of her way to care, for being the kind of teacher we all remember from our childhood, the kind of teacher who does so much more than stand in front of a classroom and ask questions.

I never had the privilege of being one of Aunt Sue's students, but I still learned a lot from her. When I was a teenager, she taught me a song that she wrote that lists the names of the planets in order starting with the one that is closest to the sun. Recently a question on a game show prompted my husband to ask me if I could recite the names of all the planets. I hadn't thought of that silly song in at least 10 years, but it immediately came back to memory. "I bought a Mercury to go to visit Venus. How on Earth can I afford to go to Mars? Jump in Jupiter, Saturn's sale is Saturday, Uranus says that Neptune's selling Pluto's cars." OK, so it doesn't make much sense, but I'll never forget the names of the planets, thanks to Aunt Sue.

She also taught me how to respect other people, even those who aren't like me. I remember ranting about how uncool my family was, and she promised me that someday my uncool sister would be my best friend, just the way she and my mom had become best friends when they were adults. I never, ever thought I'd say this, but I think she was right.

I'm not sure if she'll win the statewide Teacher of the Year award, but one thing is for sure. She's been the kind of teacher that every student should be so lucky to have. She's been the kind of teacher who cares.

April Avison is the city editor of the Daily Herald. Her column appears on Mondays. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at aavison@henryherald.com.