Next year, Henry starts Kindergarten and it has caused me to be reminiscent and reflect on my elementary school days. They were truly some of the best school years of my life. I went to a great school (go Templeton Tigers!) and from 4-6th grade I was blessed with the best teacher, Mrs. Hogan.

I’m not just throwing the word “best” in there lightly, she truly was the best. She treated us as family, not as students. There were several times she drove me home (knowing we didn’t own a car) if I missed the bus or a couple times just because she sensed I needed to talk. If you’re a teacher, NEVER underestimate the impact you can have on your students.  I am sure, at times it feels like you are just drudging through. But hear me: You truly can change their lives and make a forever impact. I’ve been thinking of Mrs. Hogan and her support and love and I wanted to share just how special she was.

My life, from 4th-6th grade was often times full of turmoil at home, the situation between my brother and mom could at times become volatile. I did a lot of growing up during this time, not because I was eager to, but the circumstances of my life caused me to. I couldn’t ignore the reality I was facing every day at home.  Eventually my brother left (when he was 16-17 years old) and we didn’t know where he was, if he was safe or alive. And at the time, that was so scary for me. I didn’t understand why any of this was happening.

And then one day, my grandma told us she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. This, was obviously devastating news. This was a time before some of the more modern advances, we were unsure if she could or would beat it. I remember the evening we found out. My mom and I sat on the couch and she cried. I was 12 at the time. I sat and comforted her. I was terrified I would lose Grandma, but I didn’t let much emotion out. I just sat and told my mom it would be okay.

The next morning, I felt numb. I went to school and I sat at my seat and didn’t engage in any before class shenanigans as usual (begging Mrs. Hogan to play the newest N’sync CD, reading the newest Harry Potter, etc). I just sat there and stared at the table. If anyone reading this remembers me then (or knows me now), I am rarely quiet, I loved to be in the thick of things. Mrs. Hogan immediately recognized something was troubling me. She came over and sat next to me and asked what was up, she knew what home life was like for me, she probably assumed it was related to that. I told her my grandma (who she knew, most people in Bloomington knew her), had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Mrs. Hogan comforted me and asked if I would like to share it with the class.

When school started for the day she had everyone sit in a circle on the floor and she let me share with the class the news, it was quiet, I cried, but I felt such a release and relief to not be carrying that news alone. And this moment of sharing would start what would come to be known as “Lean on Me Thursdays”.

Every week, Mrs. Hogan had everyone sit on the floor in a circle and we would take turns sharing whatever was on our hearts. Sometimes it was that a pet was sick and dying, other times it was family life at home. One day, a girl who’s brother was friends with my brother, started crying. She turned to me and apologized. She knew that I didn’t know where my brother, as he had ran away from home several months prior, but she knew where he was. She felt that she had been lying/keeping it from me. We both cried and hugged. And we started to heal.

This space that Mrs. Hogan gave us, allowed everyone to be heard, loved and supported. We were able to feel whatever we needed to and we weren’t alone. Mrs. Hogan created a safe place for us. I can’t even express what this meant to me at the time. I knew that I wasn’t alone.  That special group of kids and Mrs. Hogan helped me through the toughest time in my life. Were we all best friends? No. But we all knew that we would be heard and supported by each other. Mrs. Hogan also shared with us heartbreaks from her own life too. This created such a trusting environment for us.

I think about this short time in my life often, how it shapes me, even today. It is just one of those things that will leave a lasting impression on me. It made me more compassionate towards everyone, not just the people I was closest to. Today, I know that in times of darkness or fear, that I’m never truly alone. That there is always someone who would be there if I needed them. I think that is often times hard to see when we get to certain places in our lives. But we are never truly alone in our struggles, there is always someone who we can lean on, who will hear us. And if you ever doubt that, then know, that you can always lean on me.

Thank you Mrs. Hogan. Thank you  for hearing me cry out in silence. Thank you for seeing and hearing all of us, thank you for not just sticking to your curriculum. Thank you for seeing us little humans and understanding that life was coming at us so fast and we needed you and needed each other. You changed my life in more ways than just this. You didn’t see my socioeconomic status, you saw the funny, silly and caring girl who had potential even if many others would look the other way. Thank you for those 3 years in my life. They were the best. You were the best.