I was lucky to have a number of amazing teachers in both my elementary and secondary schools. I began my teaching career in the same district I grew up in, at a school I attended, McRoberts Secondary. So, over the years, I have had the opportunity to say “Thank You” to many of the amazing teachers who have influenced my life, some now colleagues and friends. But, there is one teacher, Mrs. Caffrey, to who I never fully expressed how much she meant to me.
As we celebrate World Teachers Day, I want to say a belated “Thank You” to Mrs. Caffrey and all my other teachers who have influenced my life. Often, we are lucky to have an amazing teacher for one year, I had Mrs. Caffrey for three years, in Grades 2, 3 and 4, at Daniel Woodward Elementary. I didn’t have the best experience as a Grade 1 student. I can still remember being singled out by the teacher because of my weak reading skills, and not being allowed to read the books I saw all my friends reading. Three years later, I left Grade 4 confident with my learning and, while there were many factors at play, I owe Mrs. Caffrey a lot of credit. Some of the specifics have faded over time, but there is still a lot I remember:
- Mrs. Caffrey would regularly ask me and other students about what we were doing outside of school. She knew about my hockey and soccer teams, and would often ask how we were doing — she was genuinely interested.
- She held me accountable. I can still see her at her desk calling “Christopher James” — she would use my middle name when I produced work that was sloppy or rushed — she held me accountable to do my best work.
- She had some amazing stories she had written about her own kids and family, and would read them to us as a special treat on some Friday afternoons.
- She gave me a Mr. Men book (I actually still remember it was Mr. Bump). I did struggle with the reading, but this book became a prized possession, and through her encouragement my reading improved.
- She was not very ‘sporty’ but she was one of the coaches at track and field every spring.
- She connected me and a number of my classmates to Ms. Knoepfel (yet another great teacher who influenced me) who, through an amazing enrichment program, exposed us to Olympics of the Mind and other similar problem-solving activities. Ms. Knoepfel also engaged us with technology (Lemonade Stand and Oregon Trail on our Apple IIe computers).
Mostly, I remember Mrs. Caffrey made me feel safe, and I was excited to come to school everyday. To this day, 28 years later, I smile when I think about her. And so, I feel I never really properly thanked her.
Mrs. Caffrey went on to teach both of my younger brothers, and I went back to the school after leaving Grade 7, spending the next five years helping coach basketball. I would often see her, she would always ask about me, my family and my interests. About a dozen years ago, I received a card in the mail from her congratulating me on some of my achievements. There was no return address — I probably should have tried harder to find her — just a couple years later I saw her obituary in our local paper. I clipped it out, it reminds me to thank people when I have the chance.
In Daniel Woodward Elementary School, I acquired my love of basketball from my Grade 5 teacher, Mr. Nakanishi; my Grade 6 teacher, Mr. Whitehead, committed me to becoming a lifetime fan of Bruce Springsteen and, my Grade 7 teacher, Mr. Taylor, became a mentor as we coached basketball together in the years that followed. The three great years I had in Grades 5-7 were possible because of my experiences with Mrs. Caffrey — someone who quietly changed my life and, I am sure, the lives of many others. So, Mrs. Caffrey – I am sorry this is a bit late, but “Thank You”. Thank you for deciding to teach and thank you for being such a forceful influence in my life.
To all my teachers, past and present, and to the many great teachers I get to work with every day in West Vancouver and beyond, all the best on this World Teacher’s Day!