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Teachers Who Inspired Teachers: Mrs. Ricks

Happy Monday of Teacher Appreciation Week! In this second post of the Teachers Who Inspired Teachers series, we hear from Linsey Rose, a math and social students teacher at the Bradwell School of Excellence in the South Shore neighborhood in Chicago. She shares her story and tells us about the woman who transformed her life as a student.


Mrs. Ricks, by Linsey Rose

Growing up I never imagined that I would become a teacher! Now, there's nothing else I would rather do with my life. I am a teacher because I want to listen to my students, ensure that they hear the power in their voices, and help them find ways to share that voice because the world needs them.

I was bored as a child. Living in a sleepy suburb with an older sister who resented my birth and parents who were hard at work, I resorted to extreme measures to ease the boredom. One summer, I wrote a postcard to the Chamber of Commerce in each of the fifty states plus the District of Columbia requesting tourism information, just so that there would be something in the mailbox. I spent summers counting down to the first day of school when I would get to meet a new teacher, who would breathe life and hope into my dull existence.

I loved all my teachers. I knew that they were rich in life experience, knew things I couldn't even imagine, and had traveled to the places I read about in those travel brochures, While some kids went to school to socialize or play basketball at recess, I went to school to be with my teachers.

In sixth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Sue Ann Ricks, transformed my identity as a student. She would write a quote on the chalkboard and instruct us to discuss it.  In retrospect it sounds like a simple and obvious activity. At the time, though, my whole educational world collapsed and from it a new world was born.  No longer was the teacher the proverbial "sage on the stage." She gave us permission and space to think critically, to discuss, and to disagree.

I remember having to think really hard for the first time in my life, seeking out ways to play the devil's advocate because I knew it was welcome and expected. When she put up that quote that reads, "Shoot for the stars, if you miss you'll land among the clouds," I thought it sounded too idealistic, too cutesy. I raised my hand to say that maybe we shouldn't aim for things beyond our reach - what if we get discouraged by constant failure? I was so relieved when Mrs. Ricks affirmed my contribution and said she had never thought about it like that. Mrs. Ricks ignited a love for critical thinking that has served me through high school, college, and even today as I strive to improve my practice as a teacher.

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I think the most powerful thing about being a teacher is our capacity to tell our students what we see in them. We need people in our lives who see things in us that we cannot see.  As a sixth grader, I didn't see much hope for myself. But Mrs. Ricks did. At the end of the year she wrote on my report card, "It has been a real privilege and pleasure to be Linsey's teacher this year. She has also taught me many things-to look at issues from a different perspective, to do the kind and fair thing when I can, and to include everyone. I've seen her do all of these. Thanks for the example, Linsey. I'll miss our discussions."

Even as an adult, I'm humbled by the good she saw in me. So as a kid trying to survive those hopeless adolescent years, words like these from a teacher were a lifeline. My teachers gave me hope.

The fact that I still have this report card twenty years after graduating sixth grade, stands as testament to the lasting impact that we as teachers have on our students. Every morning before I greet my students, I try to take a moment to remind myself of that gravity.  I remind myself to be more like Mrs. Ricks' - to be kind, to see the possibility in each of my students and share that vision with them, and to encourage them to be themselves and think critically about the world around them.

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