I’m there on the first row kneeling and hands folded in lap between 9-year-olds named Herbert and Virgil, one black, another white. On the back row at the side stands Mrs. Scott, also black, a somewhat stout figure in a simple navy dress and shiny black dress shoes. In the picture, I also see Joey Jackson, Douglas Shaw and Mark Wiggins, three childhood friends who I haven’t seen since our family moved from Jesup in 1974. Looking at the photo forces other names to the surface — Michael, Greg, Dawn, Joanne, Tony, Chuck, Wayne and Christy.
Back in July 2006, I wrote Mrs. Scott to let her know how she was the best school teacher I ever had:
“I want you to know how much I appreciate your compassion, kindness, strength and warmth all of those years ago. Enclosed is a book of columns I’ve written over the last four years in South Carolina newspapers. Read and you’ll easily see the influence of my parents, Elliott and Barbara. Read a little more closely and you’ll find your influence too. While some of them are about arcane pieces of South Carolina politics and policy, the columns strike recurring themes of fairness, justice, tolerance, acceptance and common sense.”
Nine days later, Mrs. Scott, then 75, replied:
“I looked at the envelope and said, ‘Who could be sending me a book from South Carolina?’ So I began to open it up and the first thing I saw at the top was ‘Andy Brack.’ I said, ‘It can’t be. Andy from the fourth grade. Not my fourth grade class.’ So I began to thumb through and saw the autograph. I said, ‘It must be.’
“I was so happy it brought tears to my eyes. You really made my week and added another year to my life (smile). I really know that my 37½ years of labor with children in Wayne County, plus three of my own, was not in vain.”
With schools across South Carolina and the country back in session now, we need to remember – and thank – our teachers and those of our children.
If you really think about teachers, you realize they’re one of the nation’s most precious resources. Every year, we entrust those most precious to us, our children, to their care so they can develop into educated, young citizens who eventually will lead our cities, state and nation.
Our teachers in public and private schools often aren’t paid enough, work long hours and have to deal with situations (bad behavior, kids with cell phones, lack of resources, and on and on) that interfere with what they want to do – teach the children. Many stay up late at night grading papers or put in long hours coaching eager athletes on the field.
And for all they put up with, they stick to it.
As South Carolina embarks on another political season, we really ought to think about how we treat teachers. We ought to pay them more than a Southeastern average. We ought to invest better in their lives, just as they’re investing in our children’s lives. And we ought to recognize them for how they’ve impacted our lives.
I’m fortunate to have written the best teacher I ever had, Mrs. Scott, before she passed in 2008.
“I will cherish this book and letter,” Mrs. Scott wrote at the end of her 2006 letter. “May God continue to bless you and your family. Thanks for such fond memories. Overlook the shaky writing. It is 75 years old now (smile).”
Tell one of your former teachers how much they meant to you. Or inspire a younger one by recognizing their hard work. You will make their day.