Ramirez: ‘A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops’ (column)
Celebrating the holiday season each year with family, friends and loved ones gives us the opportunity to reflect on the many things for which we are thankful. I am incredibly thankful for so many things in my life this year, especially to have joined Eagle County Schools as your superintendent.
During my short time here, I have witnessed the passion the educational community has for the students in the valley. To be able to continue the rich traditions of the district, and support the Board of Education’s goals, is my great honor. As I reflect on my journey to the Vail Valley and what has led me here, I go all the way back to my childhood and to the impact my teachers had on my life and on the lives of my siblings in my immigrant family.
Earlier this spring, I had the chance to speak about the power of literacy. I shared the story of my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Gaddis, who taught me to be confident and who shared with me her love of reading. The year was 1975. As a second-language learner, my English language skills did not come together until the fourth grade. That is when Ms. Gaddis worked her magic. Thanks to her, I began to love books. In class, I completed my work early so I could read.
I devoured the Hardy Boys series — twice — and then went on to read nearly every mystery book in the school’s library. Then one day, I stood before the yellow and blue hardcover Nancy Drew series. They looked intriguing, and I wanted to read them.
My story continues with the presence of a bully. This boy caught me scanning the Nancy Drew titles and threatened to beat me up if he ever caught me readings “girl books.” Now I was a small kid, and this boy scared me. I believed his threats. But I also really wanted to read the Nancy Drew book that had caught my eye. In order to escape detection, I checked out the book and then hid it … in my pants.
Mrs. Gaddis saved the day. She’d seen my attempt at subterfuge and told me that I shouldn’t let another person dictate what I read. She also understood kids, though, and she gave me a bag to put my books in. This simple act showed me several things:
1. Books are gender-free. If I wanted to read Nancy Drew, that was my choice. If my sister wanted to read the Hardy Boys (and she did), that was her prerogative. A detective is a detective is a detective.
2. Bullies? They would never stop me from reading what I wanted.
3. The Nancy Drew books were great.
As I retold this story a few months ago, I realized that if it were not for Ms. Gaddis and the other great teachers I had during my school years, I would not be where I am today. I would not be able to impact students in the way that I have during my career. I would not be here in Eagle County, leading this amazing school community.
Truly, I owe my success to my teachers.
What I have witnessed here during my first few months in Eagle County schools are teachers and educational leaders who are just like Ms. Gaddis. They work tirelessly to instill in their students an impregnable sense of self-confidence, self-worth and a passion for literacy. There is no greater gift a teacher can bestow and a child can receive.
Mrs. Gaddis planted seeds in me that took root back in fourth grade and have grown and flourished in me ever since. Her spirit resides in the lives of the countless students she impacted over the course of her career. I wonder sometimes if she realizes how many lives she helped mold. I wonder if all the teachers out there realize the far-reaching impact they can have.
Historian and journalist Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” This holiday season, I encourage you to think about the teachers you are thankful for; those people who influenced the path you’re on; those educators who are permanently part of your story. I encourage you to thank the Ms. Gaddises in your life or in the lives of your child or children.
Carlos Ramirez, Ed.D., is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.