Mrs. Virginia DeView, Where Are You?

Mrs. Virginia DeView, Where Are You?

From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul

Mrs. Virginia DeView, Where Are You?

There are high spots in all of our lives, and most of them come about through encouragement from someone else.

George Adams

We were sitting in her classroom, giggling, jabbing each other and talking about the latest information of the day, like the peculiar purple-colored mascara Cindy was wearing. Mrs. Virginia DeView cleared her throat and asked us to hush.

“Now,” she said smiling, “we are going to discover our professions.” The class seemed to gasp in unison. Our professions? We stared at each other. We were only 13 and 14 years old. This teacher was nuts.

That was pretty much how the kids looked at Virginia DeView, her hair swirled back in a bun and her large, buck teeth gaping out of her mouth. Because of her physical appearance, she was always an easy target for snickers and cruel jokes among students.

She also made her students angry because she was demanding. Most of us just overlooked her brilliance.

“Yes; you will all be searching for your future professions,” she said with a glow on her face—as though this was the best thing she did in her classroom every year. “You will have to do a research paper on your upcoming career. Each of you will have to interview someone in your field, plus give an oral report.”

All of us went home confused. Who knows what they want to do at 13? I had narrowed it down, however. I liked art, singing and writing. But I was terrible in art, and when I sang my sisters screamed: “Oh, please shut up.” The only thing left was writing.

Every day in her class, Virginia DeView monitored us. Where were we? Who had picked their careers? Finally, most of us had selected something; I picked print journalism. This meant I had to go interview a true-blue newspaper reporter in the flesh, and I was terrified.

I sat down in front of him barely able to speak. He looked at me and said: “Did you bring a pencil or pen?”

I shook my head.

“How about some paper?”

I shook my head again.

Finally, I think he realized I was terrified, and I got my first big tip as a journalist. “Never, never go anywhere without a pen and paper. You never know what you’ll run into.”

For the next 90 minutes, he filled me with stories of robberies, crime sprees and fires. He would never forget the tragic fire where four family members were killed in the blaze. He could still smell their burning flesh, he said, and he would never forget that horrid story.

A few days later, I gave my oral report totally from memory, I had been so mesmerized. I got an A on the entire project.

As we neared the end of the school year, some very resentful students decided to get Virginia DeView back for the hard work she put us through. As she rounded a corner, they shoved a pie into her face as hard as they could. She was slightly injured physically, but it was emotionally that she was really hurt. She didn’t return to school for days. When I heard the story, I felt a deep, ugly pit fill my stomach. I felt shame for myself and my fellow students who had nothing better to do than pick on a woman because of how she looked, rather than appreciate her amazing teaching skills.

Years later, I forgot all about Virginia DeView and the careers we selected. I was in college scouting around for a new career. My father wanted me in business, which seemed to be sound advice at the time, except that I had no sense of business skills whatsoever. Then I remembered Virginia DeView and my desire at 13 to be a journalist. I called my parents.

“I’m changing my major,” I announced.

There was a stunned silence on the end of the phone.

“What to?” my father finally asked.

“Journalism.”

I could tell in their voices that my parents were very unhappy, but they didn’t stop me. They just reminded me how competitive the field was and how all my life I had shied away from competition.

This was true. But journalism did something to me; it was in my blood. It gave me the freedom to go up to total strangers and ask what was going on. It trained me to ask questions and get answers in both my professional and personal life. It gave me confidence.

For the past 12 years, I’ve had the most incredible and satisfying reporting career, covering stories from murders to airplane crashes and finally settling in on my forté. I loved to write about the tender and tragic moments of people’s lives because somehow I felt it helped them in some way.

When I went to pick up my phone one day, an incredible wave of memories hit me and I realized that had it not been for Virginia DeView, I would not be sitting at that desk.

She’ll probably never know that without her help, I would not have become a journalist and a writer. I suspect I would have been floundering in the business world somewhere, with great unhappiness shadowing me each day. I wonder now how many other students in her class benefited from that career project.

I get asked all the time: “How did you pick journalism?”

“Well, you see, there was this teacher . . .” I always start out. I just wish I could thank her.

I believe that when people reflect back over their school days, there will be this faded image of a single teacher— their very own Virginia DeView. Perhaps you can thank her before it’s too late.

Diana L. Chapman

“I imagine you'll be interested in one of the more highly visible occupations?”

Reprinted by permission of Dave Carpenter.

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