The day is one in early December as the early winter rains begin to fall from the gray-blanketed skies in Southeastern Texas. As I have done on many occasions such as these, I choose this opportunity to reflect upon an earlier time in my life; a much simpler time and yet, one filled with much uncertainty and hopefulness.
While I sit at my dining room table on this day, I recall that the granddaughter of a neighbor is turning twelve and the thought is enough to send my mind wandering back to the days of the twelfth year of my life.
When I think about being a twelve year old, my mind immediately transforms my body into a very opinionated, brown-eyed, pigtailed tail who is about to embark upon what would become the most difficult and yet, most gracious time in her childhood.
I turned twelve in November of 1992. To many people, this would not be a grand celebration, as children's birthdays are normally only big "affairs" when seemingly monumental, such as the tenth or thirteenth birthdays; however, my twelfth birthday was a turning point in a childhood that had seen many high and low roads. When I think about being a twelve year old, my mind immediately transforms my body into a very opinionated, brown-eyed, pigtailed girl who is about to embark upon what would become the most difficult and yet, most gracious time in her childhood.
Having been born nearly three months premature, many doctors, nurses, and family members always hoped, but deep down did not believe, that I would be fortunate enough to see my twelfth month; let alone my twelfth year. Being strong willed and stubborn as I was, I never allowed any of my childhood difficulties, neurosurgeries, or learning disabilities to defeat me. I took every portion of my small and simple life in stride and beat all the odds stacked against me. To this day, I will not allow the minor dilemmas in life to steal what is important; the joy seen in sunrises and sunsets, the joy in spending time with friends and family, and my personal joy in that, against all fathomable reasoning, I am alive, well, healthy, and happy, far removed from those tedious times in my infancy.
My stubbornness during the time in my childhood around my twelfth birthday was widely known and as a product of my own self-made expectations, I became very annoyed by the thought of anyone changing my beliefs. My expectations and my credences ruled the roost and I was certain that no one could ever tame them. Then, into my life, came my sixth grade school year, one Reading teacher and two brief months in 1993 that changed everything that my life had ever known.
My family and I moved quite often during my childhood and every new location we chose as our home left me to pick up the pieces of my education and drop them once again, wherever and whenever we arrived. This was something to which I had grown accustomed through our, then two solid years of traveling, but something that was never easy for me, as a student. Simply stating fact, it was certain that different areas of this country, whether due to cultural needs of the students or finances of the school districts, have different methods of teaching and the continuity among school systems never seemed to match my needs, at the time.
Our move in early 1993 brought us back to my home county in Ohio and back to the Oak Hill Union Local School District where I had begun my sixth grade year. Through no one’s fault, other than my pre-teenaged rebellion, I had developed the idea that Reading class was a waste of my precious mental space and thus, I saw no need to complete the assigned work with the effort that I should have given it. As a result, my grades began to suffer somewhat, as had been the case in other schools that I had attended; however, unlike those schools and the teachers in those locales who allowed me to stumble without ever offering assistance or advice, my sixth grade teacher in my hometown school, Mrs. Sharon Needham, decided that she had to act on my behalf to see that I gained the best experience I could obtain through my time in her classroom.
Over the course of two months’ time, as the result of Mrs. Needham’s stake in my educational well-being, my interest in Reading flourished. Whether the result of being grateful for the opportunity of having a second chance to boost my grade by studying harder and re-taking assigned tests or the result of Mrs. Needham’s unique teaching approach, proving to her students that reading was not a boring subject, but one which was capable of being fun and enjoyable, my two months in my hometown elementary school during the sixth grade changed my overall outlook on education, as a whole and renewed my entire focus on how I sought to pursue my personal and educational needs.
By the time I left that elementary school in southern Jackson County, Ohio to embark upon another traveling assignment with my family, I was reading everything from sonnets to shampoo bottle labels and the interest in Reading that my teacher instilled in me has never waned; only strengthened, as time has passed.
The fiery spirit that was placed within me by Mrs. Needham, during those two brief months in early 1993, is a flame that continues to burn in my heart, today and is a spirit that I would hope for every child in this country.
Sharon Needham is not someone who took her profession as just a job to help place food on her family's table. She treated her chosen profession as a life's calling and just as I am sure she had hoped to accomplish through her talents, she made a difference in every child to pass through her classroom. I am forever grateful for her willingness to be patient and her attitude towards her students, treating them not as twelve year olds, but friends for life.
May God always bless our innocent children, who so strongly believe in their hopes and their dreams; while granting strength to our tough, yet compassionate middle school educators who go above and beyond the call of their duties for the betterment of our children’s lives, in their willingness to tackle the difficult task of taming a generation as it embarks upon discovering its own sense of reason in the society.
Copyright 2004 - Jill Eisnaugle
All rights reserved.