Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Serendipitous Encounter With And Early Mentor

With my early mentor, Susan Allred.
I had a delightfully serendipitous encounter on Saturday, and I'd like to share it with you.

It was Tryon's 125th anniversary celebration. The weather was perfect, and the streets were filled with locals enjoying one anothers' company and reminding themselves why they decided to come here (or stay here) in the first place.

The day included a parade (perhaps the best one Tryon has seen in many a year), booths hosted by local organizations, demonstrations and displays of historic events, and lots of visiting.

As I was walking up Trade Street, a pert little lady stopped me and said, "Excuse me. I'd like to introduce myself. I'm Susan Allred."

Wow! In a flash, it all came back: It's a lifetime ago, my first day as a brand-new teacher at W.P. Grier Junior High in Gastonia. 
I am assigned to teach remedial English to a very challenging group of ninth-graders. I'm twenty-four years old, have never taught a lesson, and don't have a clue as to what to do. What's more, because the principal thinks it would be good for me, the mess that is young Mr. Millard has been wedged into the well-ordered classroom of the formidable Miss Allred, a master teacher who tolerates no nonsense.

But, for some reason, she does tolerate me. She graciously allows me to conduct my clumsy lessons in her room during her two daily planning periods. She takes me under her small but powerful wing. She's wise, cheerful, supportive, nurturing, and calm: everything a wet-behind-the-ears newbie needs in a mentor and role model. She shows me what it means to be a professional educator.

And now, here she was twenty-nine years later, chatting with me on Trade Street. She's now Director of Education Recovery for Eastern Kentucky and living part time in Rutherfordton. She recognized me and re-introduced herself. As far as I can tell, she hasn't changed a bit.

That encounter, along with the entire glorious day, made me grateful for the many people and events that have contributed to my life. On this Labor Day week, when we pause to appreciate the hard work that makes our society tick, that seems like an appropriate thing for each of us to do.

Have a great week!

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