November 19, 2019
Every month as I prepare to write this blog, I ask myself one question: What can I write that will enlighten people about my profession and be helpful to my dedicated colleagues?
A few weeks ago, during a lunch with the Regional Teachers of the Year, State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice answered that question when he reminded us to celebrate and acknowledge the work of as many educators as we possibly could.
Given that this is the month of Thanksgiving, I am going to use my space here today to reflect on and thank some of the teachers that have helped me on my journey. For the sake of brevity, and because I am a high school teacher, I will focus on a few of my high school teachers in the space today.
I graduated from the old Troy High School that used to be housed on Livernois Road in Troy. My family moved there in the middle of my freshman year, and I was in the last class to graduate from there in 1992. I still get a little nostalgic whenever I hear Vanessa Williams’ “Save the Best for Last,” which was of course our senior class song.
There were three women in particular who had a lasting effect on me, to the point that I credit them with the type of teacher I am today.
Mary Ellen Larson was my sophomore biology teacher, but she was also much more to me than that. She treated every single student like they were interesting and funny and as if they belonged in biology — even if, like me — they weren’t exactly the best science student. Her energy wasn’t just positive, it was loving. I believed — and still believe — that she loved us. She trusted we could all learn, and she was excited to watch that happen. In a pretty cool turn of events, I ended up having her daughter, Katy, in one of my first classes as a new teacher at Rochester High School. They were both at my wedding. And today, Katy has now grown up to also be a teacher.
Last spring, I got a phone call from the office telling me that I had a visitor. It was Mrs. Larson, who had heard about my award. She gave me a book and flowers and a beautiful card. It was a miracle I didn’t break down sobbing in front of my entire class. She was so proud of me and still radiated that same unconditional love I remembered. I am so thankful to her.
Due to my dad’s job with General Motors, my family moved a lot, and it was often the teachers who made those moves easier for me, welcoming me and never seeming irritated to have another child added to their endless list of things to do. Besides my family, teachers and school were a source of consistency and normalcy for “the new kid.”
Senior year I woke up right around this time of year to the news that my dad had gotten another promotion and we would be moving … again. I broke down sobbing. What kind of kid wants to move 2 months end to senior year? I cried all day at school (which was quite obviously uncomfortable for many of my male teachers). But two of my teachers — Elaine Shapiro and Donna Guith — literally with almost no hesitation at all, offered to let me live with them. I was only 17, so I didn’t really understand the magnitude of what they were offering, but looking back I almost start to cry all over again. These women both had families and children of their own, and yet they were willing to welcome me into their families just like they had welcomed me into their classrooms. I ended up staying with some wonderful family friends, but that kind of all-encompassing love for students as human beings is what I strive for in my classroom, and what I see in the news and in the halls of my school every day.
Before that and since then, I have encountered countless educators who have uplifted and inspired and encouraged me. The people that I work with right now at Stoney Creek High School and in Rochester Community Schools are some of the absolute best human beings I’ve ever known. Some things have certainly changed about our profession since I graduated, but one thing remains: The love a teacher shows her students has a lasting and deep effect. Our work matters.
So thank you. Thank you, Mrs. Larson, Mrs. Shapiro and Mrs. Guith. And thank you to every educator out there working every day to let kids know you not only care about their learning, but that you care about them as unique and extraordinary human beings.
About Cara Lougheed: I am a white, cis-gender, non-disabled, married, middle class woman with 21 years of classroom experience in a suburban public school district. My pronouns are she/her/hers. Anything you find here is based on my perspective, but I acknowledge that perspective has been limited by my experiences, choices, biases (implicit & not) and the unearned privilege I have had in my life. I hope to learn and grow from my colleagues across the state in the coming months as your 2019-20 Michigan Teacher of the Year.