As we just celebrated Teacher Appreciation Week, it really got me thinking. I really lucked out with teachers who believed in me . . . I mean REALLY believed in me. Teachers who believed in me before I even believed in me.
I attended St Andrew’s the Apostle grade school in Calumet City, Illinois. It’s been closed for some time now. When I was in fourth grade, I wrote a book of poetry. I remember bringing it to school one day because I loved working on it all the time. My teacher, Mrs. Ramos, found it and asked me if I wrote it. I remember shrinking down in my seat while mustering up enough courage to say, “yes.” She left the classroom, and I thought for sure that I was in trouble. My poems were about candy and Christmas and happiness. As I sat at my little desk wondering what I did that was so bad, she came back in the room and informed me that she called The Hammond Times to write an article in the newspaper on me and she was going to submit my poems to a children’s magazine. I really didn’t understand what that meant, but it felt special.
In fifth grade, I began writing a series of mysteries. When I would complete them, my teachers would have me read them to my classmates. This was around 1988. I remember standing at the podium with my notepaper of handwritten 20 to 40 pages reading to everyone, and glancing up on occasion to make sure everyone was awake, and low and behold, they always were listening attentively. My teachers gave me an opportunity to feel important to my peers. I didn’t really understand why they wanted me to read my stories to the class, but it felt special.
In sixth grade, I started writing playwrights. I wrote “The Leader of the Pack” because I, for some reason, really liked that song. I made up an entire play based on this song. Mr. Miller read it and told me to cast my classmates. We built the scenes out of cardboard that my dad got me from his work. We worked on this play at each other’s houses after school and in the gymnasium. Then we performed it for the other grades. At the end of the performance, my classmates would announce that I wrote it, and I received a standing ovation. It felt special … really special.
In seventh grade, I started writing a soap opera called “Future Dreams,” where my classmates were the characters. Everyone was so excited to see what their character did and highly anticipated the next episode. It was a lot of fun. Perhaps this was in the back of my mind when I began writing the Bobos Babes Adventures. Most of the characters are based off of real people in their life, however, mainly family members. Each character is an animal, such as Leonard the Lion who is inspired by my father.
I went on to earning my bachelor’s degree in English with the intent to be a famous novelist. I loved studying Chaucer and Blake reading great works of art near the lagoon on campus. I met so many interesting people who shared my love for literature and poetry. I felt so inspired and moved and felt my opportunity to live my dreams getting closer and closer as graduation approached.
It was the final weeks of my senior year, and I had an appointment in the career placement center. While waiting to speak to an advisor that I never met before, a man was walking out who appeared to be on staff at the university. He stopped to say hello and asked me what I was going to be doing after graduation. I shared with him that I was going to start writing my first novel. He basically told me that it was a pipedream and then asked what I am really going to do to make money. I didn’t have an answer for him. This teacher, at least I think he was a teacher, never read one piece of my work. Maybe I was just in too sensitive and influential stage of my life, but that moment altered my career path. I felt anything but special.
All my life, I had been blessed with amazing teachers who really went above and beyond to provide a path that I didn’t even know existed. It’s funny. These teachers, year after year, gave me the confidence beyond what any child could even dream of to follow their dreams. And one teacher, who I spoke to for five minutes, took all of my confidence that my teachers built for my career path my entire life and crushed it -- because I let him.
Thankfully, with age and life experiences comes wisdom and some clarity. My career path has come full circle. While I never completely stopped writing, I did stop my creative writing (with the exception of our annual Christmas card). This God-awful pandemic has given me time to do what I love and brought me back to what I was meant to do in life. I’ll forever be grateful for the teachers who helped pave the path. To them I say thank you. For them, for me, and for my family, I will continue walking down that magical wonderful path.