Recently, I exited my editor's office to find a lady waiting to speak to me. I was quite flabbergasted when she told me I was a former student of her father's, and that he spoke of me often until his death earlier this year.
I was only in eighth grade when J.D. Dickerson took a position vacated by our English teacher in mid-year.
We students waited with trepidation for his arrival. Accustomed to female teachers, we wondered whether he would be stern, handsome, fun, and different from "regular" teachers.
He was actually an unusual soul who made school fun and challenged us to think and be creative. Turning in poetry for extra credit turned out to be very lucrative for me, and I was flattered when he praised my work.
That was 33 years ago. I can feel my bones creaking and hair graying as I recall with clarity the school days way back then at William James Junior High School when we enjoyed Mr. Dickerson's class.
It's not unusual for someone to remember a teacher who made a difference in their lives. I learned from him that words arranged in a certain way have the power to spark emotion, thought and even action.
I am honored to learn that Mr. Dickerson remembered me, especially in a favorable light. (Many of my teachers were probably glad to see the year end. I could be rather mischievous.) I wish I had known he was still in the area, because I would have loved to visit him before passed.
Teachers have hundreds of students while we only have dozens of teachers. Surely some students do stand out in their minds, but after years of new students every year, being remembered by a teacher so many years after school is unusual.
Children will remember a teacher who made them feel good about themselves, who taught them valuable lessons, who made a difference. They will also remember teachers who made them feel badly.
I will never forget the utter humiliation of a fifth grade teacher who allowed my classmates, during an indoor recess, to chant the name of a boy on whom I had a crush, along with my name.
The boy was in the class next door, and I knew they heard my class shouting. I looked to the teacher for help and she sat smiling at me, laughing at my embarrassment. I knew she hated me. The feeling was mutual.
There was also the third grade teacher who told my mother she had "never seen a child quite like Holli." It wasn't a compliment. (I would sneak books into class and read when her lessons bored me.) There was also the math teacher who made my hours in her class a living hell.
But so many teachers had a positive influence on me. A fourth grade teacher recognized my love for nature and gave me special assignments, such as documenting the hatching of eggs we had in a classroom incubator.
There were the English teachers who encouraged my writing, and even a math teacher who was one of my favorites although numbers and I never did get along.
A personal finance teacher taught us more about life than she did finance, but I've always considered those lessons to be more valuable, and I maintain a friendship with that lady to this day.
I still run into a couple of my former teachers around town and enjoy the encounters. Interacting with a former teacher as an adult is a positive experience — and even though I am grown I can still learn from these wise folks.
It's true that a teacher's words and actions can stay with you a lifetime. Children are impressionable, as are teens, and when a teacher truly cares, it makes a great difference. Those lessons and feelings and experiences could very well encourage a student to excel in life and aim for goals that otherwise, they would never have dreamed of pursuing.
I will always remember Mr. Dickerson as kind, funny, entertaining and a teacher who made learning fun. I'm positive I am not the only student he inspired, and I know Heaven has a very interesting and unique angel who is likely giving lessons in proper grammar and the value of descriptive writing.
Rest in peace, Mr. J.D. Dickerson, and many thanks to his daughter who took the time to share that this wonderful teacher remembered me.
Holli Bragg Deal may be reached at 489-9414.