This time of year always makes me think of the smell of new shoes, collars that are still a little stiff around the neck, and the excitement of sitting next to my best friend (although, to be honest, that particular joy didn't happen very often).
Yup, it's back to school time.
I got to see all of my babies off to school this morning (I'm writing this on Tuesday evening) with not one tear and much excitement.
But it does get me thinking about the people who most inspired me most in the classroom. I can honestly tell you to this day that I remember each and every one of these people fondly and my experiences with them made me a better person and a better writer.
I met Mrs. Shellady in fourth grade. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, wanted Mrs. S as their teacher. She was one of the 'cool' teachers. We've all had 'em, right? She was the one. I can't tell you the day she started reading 'The Great Gilly Hopkins' by Katherine Patterson but I can remember how I felt when she got done reading it. The story follows Gilly throughout her stay in a foster home and her misadventures with her step-mother and her fellow foster kid, Earnest Teague (I didn't even have to google that. That kid's name is burnt into my brain.) along with the search for her real birth mother and her mother's eventual rejection. I remember thinking that this kid had a similar story to mine - which was odd, let's be honest. But it must have been cool enough for Mrs. S to think it was okay to read to us and it got the NewBerry award if memory serves. If I'm wrong....well, it won't be the first time. But, I'd like to think that those books that she read began me on a path with a love for books that has lasted until today. She also gave me a nurturing environment. I never felt anything but love from that lady. Bless you and thank you, Mrs. S.
Now, onto sixth grade and Mr. G (aka Mr. Gingerich). Here begins the story of Heather's writing career. He held an after school writer's workshop and I remember I still have his remarks on one of my stories about a female great dane somewhere tucked into a blue suitcase that still says 'Heather Ulin' on it in masking tape from a summer at Girl Scout Camp. Either way, we would wile away an hour or so as he read us Ray Bradbury (the man had an absolute love affair with Bradbury) and we'd sketch pictures to go with our stories and write. I loved every second of it. And maybe reading Bradbury began that love with words, too. I loved how the words sounded when he read them, reading these odd passages of words that didn't always make sense, but I loved how they sounded in my little mind. At the time...it made me feel special in a way that was good and not the way where every one stared a little bit when I said my grandparents adopted me. This, for a change, was all about me and not about where I came from. Thanks for that, Mr. G.
Fast forwarding to seventh, eighth, and ninth grades we arrive at Mr. Tony Hancock. He, to this day, was probably the biggest influence writing-wise for me. He pushed me to make more of my words, to expand, to expound, to figure out what those big words meant, and to make things simpler, too. He was the first to request to send a piece of my work into a conference wide publication meant for kids of our age. I got my first publication....and then my second. Again, those bound pages are stuck somewhere in that suitcase. But, Mr. H, in addition to pushing me as a writer, also gave me my first taste of success. I'll remember him forever for that. And Mr. H, wherever you are, thank you so very much.
Lastly, but by no means, leastly, Mr. Frakes. Holy cow. Fast forward to senior year and taking one of his classes was something I'd wanted to do my whole high school career and finally, there I was. I remember working my ass off in his class, reading things I would never read as they didn't run along the lines of VC Andrews or Sweet Valley High (dude, don't judge - I was a kid) or something equally teenagery. I remember reading through The Charge of the Light Brigade for that class and it giving me literal goosebumps. Again, here was a teacher showing me things that I would not have actively sought out if left to my own devices. Ever. Thanks for that, Mr. Frakes.
These people, aside from a few authoric (hush, it's a word) influences later on in my life, have left their indelible and loving mark on my heart. They gave me an outlet when I had a lot going on in my little life, they helped nurture a gift, and they gave power to someone who felt powerless a lot of the time. Behind my Bic and my wide-ruled notebook, I could change the world. So, to you, to you blessed teachers, thank you. I wouldn't be the same without you.