A Teacher I’ll Never Forget

“Look at my nose.” The eyes of 25 15-year-old girls looked up and blinked in disbelief.

There she stood—a petite, demure, older (much older to our teenage eyes) woman with stunningly beautiful, perfectly coiffed white hair, and piercing yet kind brown eyes. She leaned lightly on her black cane.

“Ladies. Look at my nose.”

The sharp sound of cane rapping floor accompanied the directive this time. That introduction began a three-year love affair between a group of irascible, pubescent girls and the woman who would guide them through the academic and social maze of New Trier with such graceful determination that each of us would feel successful

Mrs. Clader had been appointed to our advisory after freshman year when our previous advisor left to get married. How lucky that fate brought her to us. Our original skepticism became respect, and we all bonded with the fabulous Mrs. C. As time passed and graduation approached, we realized sadly that our time with our dear advisor was coming to an end. But we first had to know: Why did she begin each and every morning with the words, “look at my nose”? The answer: “Do you have a better way to get the attention of a group of chatty, social, high school girls?”

Fast-forward 30 years, and I find myself face to face with Mrs. Clader’s nose once again. We’re visiting the retirement facility that has become her home. She is older now—truly older. Her brown eyes not quite as piercing, her hair still beautiful. She is just months away from turning 95. As we talk, I am reminded of what an integral role she played in shaping who I am today. I am deeply grateful for the “gifts” she bestowed on me—the gift of time, tutelage, encouragement and connection. I wonder … have I passed along those gifts to others?

I have brought my children to meet this famous figure from my past. I silently pledge to visit her more often. As a mother, I am so thankful for the teachers who have devoted time to mentoring and guiding my children—and the list is long.

Mrs. Clader and I unwrap the plant that I brought and say our goodbyes. I sense that this moment will resonate with all of us, and hope that my children will appreciate and carry forward a piece of this afternoon.

During the holiday season, we find ourselves making lists and looking for the perfect gift in expression of love and gratitude for the special people in our lives. Teachers, youth counselors and coaches often top the list. This year, consider a phone call, a note or a visit with one of those remarkable mentors from your (or your family’s) past. No gift wrap required.

“The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Share your story of a teacher that inspired you in the comments section below, or send us a note.