Tell us about a teacher who had a real impact on your life, either for the better or the worse. How is your life different today because of him or her?
I have had many really good teachers in my life, but the one that comes to the forefront of my mind was my elementary school librarian – Mrs. Rayburn. Our friendship blossomed because of an unusual situation; my elementary school had a lady come in once a week and tell bible stories in class. Because of my unusual biblical education as a Kindergartner, I often ended up in theological disputes with this little old lady. Because of that, she wouldn’t have me in the classroom when she told her bible stories, so from that point on, I spent those days in the Library with Mrs. Rayburn. I could already read in Kindergarten, and she took that ability and turned it into a serious love of literature. We began to meet before school every morning, to review the book I had taken home the night before and to get a new book for that night. I devoured everything she gave me. By the end of that year, I was already reading James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl and other young fiction. That love of reading has never left me. In addition, Mrs. Rayburn became a fixture in my life outside of school, as I would often be invited to spend weekends at her home with her and Mr. Rayburn. You see, Mrs. Rayburn was estranged from her son, because he had embraced the very religion I was raised in. I feel really good because I helped her understand the religion more, and to become reconciled with her son after she realized it wasn’t bad, like she had been predisposed to believe. She had a real affection for me, and the feeling was mutual. She took on the role of a grandparent to me, as all my grandparents were passed on by the time I was 3 or 4 years old. I stayed in touch with her over the years, even after I moved away from Appalachia and to Cincinnati. I loved her dearly and respected what she did.
A little bit more about Inez (that’s her first name): She was a teacher in one-room schoolhouses when my parents were little. She taught my father in the 40’s in one of those schoolhouses, and she had to travel a long way each direction just to teach there. She was head librarian over several schools and often traveled from school to school visiting the libraries.
Now, as an adult and a parent, I have been volunteering in our elementary media center for three years. Every day that I’m there, helping children find literature to light up their imaginations, shelving books, setting up displays to catch their eyes, I feel Mrs. Rayburn with me. She always went above and beyond her simple duties as an educator and loved all the kids she worked with.