My mother’s Emmy Award winning moment

*Special thanks to Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy for serving as today’s guest writer. Always a pleasure to read her work!*

          Timing was everything.  The sound of The Huntley-Brinkley Report emanating from the television in our living room was my ticking clock, each word a precious second flying by.  Night after night as they delivered the evening news to the nation, I sat at the chrome table with the marbled green top, the smell of spaghetti and meatballs, fried chicken, vegetable beef soup, or whatever my mother had cooked for supper that night lingering in the kitchen. I gripped the yellow No. 2 pencil, pressed my lips together, and tried to copy the elegantly formed letters of my mother’s handwriting.

   

Teresa with her sister, Liz Burns Glenn, and her mother, Madeline Norris Burns, at the Arkansas (now Lyon) College library

Teresa with her sister, Liz Burns Glenn, and her mother, Madeline Norris Burns, at the Arkansas (now Lyon) College library

  I was a third grader who had landed in the classroom of a teacher who routinely screamed at us, and, on one occasion, had tied an unruly student in her desk with a jump rope.  This teacher was rumored to have deliberately turned the stone of her ring palm-side in and slapped a former student’s face in order to make a more marked impression.  I believed that rumor, for she had once yanked me from my seat and whacked my bare leg so hard she left behind the imprint of her hand.  Just being in that teacher’s classroom caused my muscles to constrict and my palms to sweat.  Unfortunately, my constant state of unease led me to bear down too hard when I wrote, making my writing dark and prone to smudging.

     Up to this point in my schooling, I had never gotten a grade below a B on my report card.  That year, I received a steady string of C’s in penmanship.  My mother was typically a stickler for good grades, but when those C’s began appearing on my report card, she told me to do my best and not worry so much about the grade I got.  Even when the C’s dropped to a C- during one grading period, she didn’t reprimand me.

    “I don’t want to make a D,” I sobbed as I handed her the offending report card.

    “You won’t,” my mother reassured me.  “I’ve got a plan for improving your penmanship.”

   My mother’s plan was for me to copy her handwriting, five pages each weeknight for the next six weeks.  If I completed my work before my favorite television shows came on after the evening news, I could watch them.  If not, those Beverly Hillbillies would have to exasperate and outsmart the city folk without me.  The cast of Lost in Space would have to escape the villains of the cosmos without this small earthling cheering them on.  And worst of all, I would miss the antics of that adorable sheepdog in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies.  Desperate to go to places where there were no mean third grade teachers, I filled up those five pages night after night as Chet Huntley and David Brinkley droned on about the escalating war in Vietnam and the rising racial tensions at home.

     When the report cards came out following my six weeks of diligent handwriting practice, I couldn’t wait to see how well I’d done in penmanship.  Certain that I had raised my grade to at least a B, I slid my card out of its manila envelope.  Next to the last grading period’s C- was a C+.  That afternoon, I trudged home, the air around me so heavy I could barely breathe.

     “How’d you do?” my mother asked, meeting me at the door to our house, her brown eyes bright with anticipation.

      I handed her my report card.

     She looked at it, her face never displaying the disappointment she must have felt.

     “Oh, well,” she said with a shrug.  “I guess your teacher just thinks of a C as average, and she gave you a C+, so she must think of you as above average.”

    

Teresa's mother, Madeline Norris Burns, receiving the Lyon College Friend of Education Award, 1999

Teresa’s mother, Madeline Norris Burns, receiving the Lyon College Friend of Education Award, 1999

In that moment, the air was infinitely more breathable.  Without criticizing my teacher, my mother had taught me the vital lessons of tenacity and acceptance. I don’t believe any of my favorite television programs won Emmy Awards that year; but, if they gave Emmys to teachers, my mother would have gotten one for her performance that afternoon.  In fact, her mantel would be filled with awards for recognizing and responding to so many teachable moments both at home and in the junior high school classrooms where she taught for thirty years.

   The next year, I moved on to the classroom of a fourth grade teacher who read us Beverly Cleary books and played peppy music so we could do shoulder-wiggling/feet-jiggling exercises in our seats on rainy days. She often gave us assignments to write about things that occurred in our lives.  For one assignment, I wrote about my family’s vacation to California.  Though it would have been thrilling to have written about seeing one of my television heroes out in Hollywood, I’m sure I stuck to the real-life events of playing with my aunt and uncle’s Pekingese pups and riding in the teacups at Disneyland with my mother.      

     When the teacher returned my paper, she paused at my desk and said, “You have such beautiful handwriting.”

     At the top of the page was a fat red A followed by a comment that read, “Sounds like a lot of fun!”

     I raised my eyes to meet my teacher’s smiling face.

     “Thanks,” I said. “My mother taught me how to write like that.”

   

   

 

Learning to teach

A wise woman named Mauzelle who managed the Arkansas Methodist Church archives at Hendrix University once told me, as she tried to share her lunch with me while I researched Methodist women in the Ozarks, that she loves history and wants to do everything she can to preserve it.

“It’s so important, you see, because we are who they were.”

Bethany the professor!

Bethany the professor!

That rings true in my life in many ways. Lately, as I prepare to teach two courses on the college level for the first time, I have caught myself reminiscing about the teachers I remember most, teachers who made a difference in my life, either because of their great teaching abilities or because of their huge capacity to serve and care for students.

I’m thankful for Ms. Prim. In kindergarten she spent what seemed like forever unbraiding my hair while I sobbed uncontrollably one morning after begging my mom to fix my hair like Princess Leia. When I got to school and realized that none of the other girls looked like Princess Leia, I was mortified. Ms. Prim didn’t ask any questions. She just soothed my insecurities and gave me chocolate milk in a carton and graham crackers.

I’m thankful for Mr. Ward who took the time and effort to gather worms and crickets so that in fifth grade, when all things gross are very cool, we had the chance to eat cricket pizza and worm cookies. He made science more fascinating, fun, and whimsical. And I’m thankful for Mr. Smith, one of my high school science teachers, who had a true gift for explaining the most intricate theories in dummy terms. From him, I learned that I will earn my students’ respect not by being their buddy but by being a good teacher.

I’m thankful for Ms. Walters who had an infinite amount of patience with me as I struggled to make an “A” in algebra in eighth grade. I still don’t love math, but I remember that in her class, it wasn’t so bad. She helped me to understand that I can’t infuse my passion for my field into the heart of every single student, but I can certainly equip them to be better writers.

Maggie, in 2012, with the book Mr. Tilley gave to me in 2004

Maggie, in 2012, with the book Mr. Tilley gave to me in 2004

I’m thankful for Mr. Tilley who tolerated my huge crush on him. He was nearing retirement when I had him in class in 7th grade, but I just loved that man. He was dignified, smart, had a Grizzly Adams beard, and collected antiques. What could be cooler than that? When I realized that the antique children’s book I’d chosen to use as a prop in Maggie’s newborn photos was the book he’d given me when I visited him several years after graduating from high school, I cried. Mr. Tilley helped me to understand that being a good person is even more important than being a good teacher. He’s the kind of person I’ll never forget.

And that’s not even half of them.

I could spend hours writing a gratitude list solely pertaining to the educators in my life.

Instead, I think I’ll go work on my own courses. I have some teaching to do.

One teacher makes a difference

*Big thanks to my friend Henry Petty for sharing his gratitude for his sixth grade teacher with us–and thanks to all educators who make a difference in the lives of students today. Stay tuned for other “back to school” posts.*

Henry with Mrs. and Mr. Elumbaugh

Henry with Mrs. and Mr. Elumbaugh

I can count on one hand the number of teachers who really inspired me and left an impact, and this spans from high school through college. Let me tell you about Mrs. Margaret Elumbaugh.

She was Mrs. Beard when school started. I can remember she had this poster up of a drawing of somebody wearing a beard, and that was her. She was the kindest person to me at a time when I was so very vulnerable. I was wearing tattered clothes in a scholastic melting pot of characters: the rich kids mixed with 2 oz. of po-po kids (poor). She and Mrs. Bently were the ultimate tag team of teachers. They genuinely cared about their students, and you could tell.

I can remember being a very unpopular kid in school; I never got my haircut because my grandma cut it for me, and it hurt really bad. And she cut it holding a bowl over my head, hence the “bowl cut.” People spat on me, called me “wet back” because the naïve students thought I was Hispanic (I’m Filipino, dummy), and made fun of me for my hand-me-down-from-a-yardsale clothes. My life was a nightmare. And that was during recess.

But she treated me just like the other students. She didn’t care; she had love in her heart. She would have this giant bag of Jolly Ranchers to give the good kids for doing..well.. good :). I always enjoyed Mondays because she recounted the weekend excursion to Little Rock which she and “Bubby,” her husband at the time, would take. Or she would tell us about some movie they went out to see. I was too poor to see a movie, much less make the scary trip all the way to Little Rock from Batesville, so this was like storytime and show-and-tell for me. I now live five minutes away from the very mall she talked about going to, and when I’m walking around, she comes to mind.

She inspired me to do more with my life. She convinced me that I was special just like any other kid, that I was a good-hearted person with lots to give to the world. When I tried to be someone I wasn’t, she called me out on it. I started walking down the hallway with a “limp” because I saw somebody do it on Arsenio Hall, and she looked at me and said,”Don’t do that.”

I was arguably the poorest kid in her class, very shy, and as unpopular as orange juice after brushing your teeth. I was bullied often, made fun of on a daily basis either for my clothes or darker skin. On the day of our Christmas presentation, I completely forgot my line and was feeling crummy about it. I got back to my desk and found a giant artbook with color pencils and magic markers. She had gotten those for me as a gift because she always saw me drawing. She nurtured that gift which eventually led to my love of entertaining and doing YouTube videos. Thank you, Mrs. Elumbaugh. I never forgot.

Staying true to his altruistic roots

*Special thanks to Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy for writing today’s post in celebration of National Teacher Day.*

May 7th is National Teacher Day.  Since 1985, each Tuesday of the first full week of May has been a nationally recognized day to honor teachers. According to the National Education Association, the day’s origins go back to around 1944 when Mattye Whyte Woodridge, an Arkansas teacher, initiated correspondence with political and education leaders about setting aside a day to recognize teachers.  Eventually, she wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt, who ultimately convinced Congress to proclaim a National Teacher Day in 1953.  On this National Teacher Day, I would like to honor my husband, Mr. Dan Murphy, a teacher whose commitment to education also began in Arkansas.

Mr. Murphy with his daughter, Margaret, on the first day of school, 2012

Mr. Murphy with his daughter, Margaret, on the first day of school, 2012

Dan is currently a special education teacher in the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.  Before coming to Fairfax County, he taught special education in the Batesville Public Schools in Arkansas.  However, his work with special needs students began when he was in high school.  Inspired by his uncle, Dr. Jerry Bensberg, an early researcher in the field of mental disabilities and a long-time developmental psychology professor, Dan began working at summer camps for children with special needs.  Dan’s work at Camp Wyldewood in Arkansas and Camp Woodhaven in Missouri provided him with his initial opportunity to interact with children and young adults with developmental disabilities.

While he was a student at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, Dan continued to work with special needs individuals.  He spent one summer as a counselor at Camp Freedom in Ossipee, New Hampshire.  Camp Freedom was an innovative program that provided educational and recreational experiences for special needs children in a camp-like environment.  Dan also worked as an educational assistant in a behavioral management program for children with autism at the Arkansas Children’s Colony (now the Conway Human Development Center), a state-managed residential training facility for individuals with developmental disabilities.

As a teacher, Dan has been active in Special Olympics, and he has developed his own education programs. In 2004, he garnered a grant for a recycling program at Floris Elementary School where he currently teaches.  Recently, at Floris, Dan started a program called the Lunch Bunch.  Four days a week, he selects a small, diverse group of students and meets with them during lunch.  This thirty-minute segment of time is designed to be stress-free and allows the participants an opportunity to share a meal, talk, and play games.

Not everyone has the giftedness or the grace necessary to be a teacher, and special education is a field in which the attrition rate is particularly high.  Nevertheless, Dan has stayed true to his altruistic roots for over 30 years.  Students know they can rely on Mr. Murphy for kindness, patience, and support as well as for something that matters to all people – unconditional acceptance.

 

Mothers and more mothers

*Thanks to my pastor, Paul Seay, for serving as today’s guest contributor.*

“For women, though, without children of their own, who like mothers have nurtured and cared for us, we pray to the Lord…”—Book of Blessings, USA., United Methodist Book of Worship, page 438

My own mother, Clora Lee Walker Seay, went home to heaven a little over 30 years ago.  She was a saint of a lady who put up with my father longer than she should have, but that’s the way she was.  She vowed before God that she would take him for better or worse and she lived that commitment until her death.  She also put up with my five brothers and sisters and me, which I know had to be a struggle also.  In the years since her death I have been able to witness other women who have been wonderful mothers although they never had children of their own.  I want to mention a couple of them.

Paul and his sister, Sue

Paul and his sister, Sue

My older sister, Sue Ann Seay Smith, has always been a rock for our family.  Although she and her husband, Larry, have no children of their own, they have helped raise us younger brothers and sisters along with countless nieces and nephews on both sides of the family.  Sue Ann also taught fourth grade in the Jackson, Missouri, school system until she retired after 30 years of service.  When I visit her, we run into former students in the grocery store or Wal-Mart, and I am amazed how they always want to visit with her and share with her about their lives and the influence she has had on them.

Another lady is our Children’s Ministry Director at Central Avenue United Methodist Church, Dennie Story Baker.  Whether it is the children’s message on Sunday morning, directing the Ringing Cherubs or Allegro Ringers Bell Choirs, or the Heavenly Hallelujahs children’s choir, she is always on the top of her game.  The girls and boys love Ms. Dennie, they pay attention to her, and they learn from her.  In the many years she has worked here at CAUMC, she has been a wonderful influence on hundreds of our children, youth, and young adults.

Dennie with some of her kids

Dennie with some of her kids

As I was writing this there were many others just like Sue Ann and Dennie that crossed my mind.  I just want to say that mothers are not always defined as those who have given birth, and we should thank God for them all.

Life review of gratitude

*Special thanks to guest writer Debra Dickey-Liang for sharing with us!*

A person that you are extremely grateful for . . . .

As I read that sentence, my initial reaction was:  “How in the world could you pick just one person?!?”, because immediately, a score of people, and the reasons that I am grateful for them, just overflowed into my consciousness. Thus, this lengthy narrative became an expression of enormous personal gratitude and acknowledgement of the personification of God’s perfect love through His chosen people, revealing a whole litany of worthy recipients of great honor and acclaim.

First and foremost, I am grateful for my parents.  My mom and dad were always the most grounded, genuine people that I have ever known; honest, upstanding, hard-working individuals who taught me well — full of integrity.  A close second are my siblings.  Each of my brothers and my sister have added their own unique layers of individualism and goodness to my life, and I cannot imagine how I would have grown into the person that I am without all of them.

Then there’s my Grandpa Short.  I was the first grandchild, and boy was I spoiled!!  He loved me without reservation, and I loved him back just the same!  He treated me like gold, and let me have the run of his house — no child could have asked for a better grandpa .  . .  Hey, I said I was spoiled!

I am grateful for teachers who saw more in me than I saw in myself.  I am grateful for aunts who extended generous invitations into their homes and day-to-day worlds, not only looking out for me, but granting me new situations and interesting places.

I am grateful for people who have treated me kindly.  Kindly, while I was learning, and who exercised patience and understanding to help me navigate new systems, processes, and protocols in order to perform at the highest level of efficiency in whatever I do; for people who have gone out of their way, above and beyond normal expectations, to show me kindness, lend extra assistance, or, unannounced, to drive back to Little Rock to quietly check on me as I slept in Mom’s waiting room, concerned because I was by myself.

Photo by Jessie Covington of Say Cheese Photography

I am grateful for special friends.  People who have come into my life for a time, a reason, or a season.  Each specially given just at the right time  . . . . when I needed them most!  Friends who gave me a purpose, but who gave back much more than they received; friends who saw my need and surreptitiously took me under their wings and cared about me and watched over me without expecting anything in return; friends whom I have always known that just continue to become more important in the niche that they fill;  friends who remain friends even if I don’t get to see them as often as I would like; friends who are just nice people to exchange a laugh and joke with; friends from a lifetime ago that still break into a smile and give me a huge hug when we meet; friends who have opened their homes, shared their resources, and invited me to engage in their cultures and customs with amenity; people whose lives I entered by way of marriage, embraced me without hesitation, then loved and cared for me as if I had always belonged there; friends who are my children; friends who I know because of my children — some who have it rough, yet never complain.  So many, many people to be grateful for!  Each and all, supplying their own unique and wonderful blend of character and spice of diversity that so richly enhance my life.  A veritable bevy of mortal souls sent with Divine Purpose, that infuse every chapter of my being with an essence of grace and love unequaled, by whom I have been extremely privileged to be touched along this road that is mine to walk.

I am grateful for people who are good to my children; I am grateful for generous and caring neighbors; I’m grateful for people who began as mentors, and quickly earned my admiration and respect because of their authentic spirit, attitude, and strength of character; I am grateful for the person who generously shares her ‘blog’ space, graciously allowing me a writing opportunity that only now do I realize I had been longing for;  I am grateful for ‘little’ people  who come my way, in the form of nieces and nephews, who are way cool, fun, and all without an ounce of insincerity,  each and every one making a contribution of value that adds great dimension to my existence, a variegated and multicolored tapestry of extraordinary facets that glimmer and sparkle in everything that I do.

And a bit surprisingly, this ‘life review’ turned into a tearful and emotional journey of commemoration and remembrance . . . .  \

As I thought back over a lifetime of people, I was deeply and profoundly humbled to recount the indescribable number of wondrous and diverse ministering spirits that God, through His Bountiful Grace and Omnipotence, has placed upon my path, to know, love, and be loved by, throughout the years  –  rare and priceless jewels of great and lasting beauty; innumerable and immeasurable, with blessings beyond compare.

And so any endeavor on my part to denote the gift of one Divinely inspired ‘pearl of great value’ as more cherished than another ‘precious gem’ perfectly given, would nowhere begin to Glorify the Giver of All Gifts, from Whom all Blessings flow, and in Which we Believe, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.(James1:17)   Amen and Praise God, I am extremely grateful for them ALL.

 

 *And I am grateful for my friend Debra who shared her life review of gratitude with all of us. Who makes it into your life review of gratitude?*