26: The Ripple Effect

26: The Ripple Effect

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

The Ripple Effect

While it may seem small, the ripple effect of small things is extraordinary.

~Matt Bevin

I stood in a rambunctious group of sixth grade students, waiting in suspense for the answer to our burning question: What type of crazy tie would Mr. Miller be showcasing today?

Our teacher careened around the corner with a… drum roll, please… GREEN ELEPHANT TIE that matched his rather large elephant coffee mug! Oh, the satisfaction in our young hearts — a green elephant tie!

As his glasses hung on for dear life at the tip of his nose, he gave us a silly grin and greeted us with a cheerful, “Good morning, folks!” Whether sunshine or hurricane, he always started out our day with a joyful salutation. He was eccentric and unique and he brightened every day for us.

I loved music, so I remember how excited I was when he said he was going to give us music lessons. But when he turned on the music, my minority, low-income classmates and I slowly turned our heads toward the sound of… Peter Paul and Mary singing “If I Had a Hammer.”

Snickers filled the room. If it wasn’t rap or hip hop, we didn’t recognize it. What were these people singing about? My classmates were not into this at all. But for me, it was a discovery. An awakening.

Our white, eccentric teacher opened up a whole new world for me. No longer trapped within the confines of what we were expected to listen to, I learned to love John Denver, Joan Baez, and the many other artists who were hiding behind the doors of cultural stereotypes. Mr. Miller took those chances with us.

From introducing the graceful art of calligraphy to getting filthy reenacting the Gold Rush of the 1840s, he was not afraid to go out on a limb, to give all of himself in his teaching, no matter our backgrounds. He was the most innovative and creative teacher I have ever known.

Fast-forward twenty years, and now there are forty little eyes staring at my wild musical-note shirts or weird treble-clef earrings as I greet them with a joyful, “Good morning, class!” I wonder, Do my students wait and wonder what crazy music clothes I will wear each day?

I am blessed to teach music to English Language Learning students who happen to reside on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. Nevertheless, I go out on a limb with them, take chances, and give all of myself to teaching them. And they’ve developed a hunger to dance to Beethoven’s Fifth, to watch Gustavo Dudamel of the Los Angeles Philharmonic conduct the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, and to create while Duke Ellington mixes his instrumental sounds like a painter on a canvas.

I glance at my 2015 Teacher of the Year Award, which I received for being a dynamic, innovative, and somewhat… eccentric teacher. And I chuckle to myself, wondering which child in front of me will carry this on — as I’ve carried on the legacy of Mr. Miller.

One teacher, who dared to be different and open new worlds to kids like me, tossed the pivotal pebble into the pond of my life. I pray the ripples never end.

~Genein M. Letford

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