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Valuable Voices: A Teacher's Most Important Lesson

I remember the moment clearly even now: Mrs S., brandishing the loose-leaf pages in front of my fourth-grade classroom, her wild-eyed look at odds with her precise hair and immaculate apple-printed skirt. I remember how I had quietly slipped the papers into tray of finished homework, how I had felt somehow embarrassed by the inked words. I remember her words: "Julie is going to be a famous writer someday!" And I remember the feeling: elation, pride, and a stark wonder that someone believed in me this much.
 
Now, years later--after a college degree in Creative Writing and a few published pieces in literary journals--I think back on the powerful impact that Mrs. S. had on my writing. I was an extraordinarily shy student. English had been my second language, and I had been shuffled through ESL classes all throughout my early elementary school years. But for me, English was not a hardship—it was a refuge. I lost myself in books, and found myself in paper and pen. I wrote and wrote and wrote—but I found it extremely difficult to share that writing. I did not think I was good enough. I was a bookish child—timid and very serious in demeanor, and very self-conscious. My love of writing, combined with my lack of confidence, caused me to fret over every single word that might be read by anyone else.
 
When Mrs. S. interrupted the class during Silent Reading Time that day, I never expected her to be holding my story in her hands. “I want to read a really great story that one of your classmates wrote,” she announced. When my words started coming out of her mouth, I nearly stopped breathing. She thinks my story is great? I couldn't believe it. From then on, I knew. I was going to be writer. Mrs. S. gave me something much more important than the grammar worksheets she passed out or the sentences she diagrammed on the whiteboard or the five-paragraph essay rubrics she created—she gave me encouragement to follow my passions.
 
Writing will always be my first love. I continue to do it—with relish and with despair. And yes, I write with a little more abandon than I used to. However, over time, I came to realize that I also wanted to be a teacher. What I didn't know back then was that I wanted to give others what had been given to me. I want to be that spark of inspiration for my students—someone who shows them how truly valuable their voices are. I want to celebrate their unique work in order to lift their sense of worth. I want to be their Mrs. S.