Monday, September 20, 2010

The Miracle in Room 21

He changed my life.

I didn't want to be in his class.  I wanted Mr. Sturtevant, the young "cool" teacher, not him He had a stony demeanor that accompanied his strange gait.  Bob Tickner was a victim of his time--polio had attacked him as a child, leaving him badly crippled but not beaten.  His presence alone was enough to startle an eleven-year-old girl.  And now I was assigned to his classroom.  Help.

I don't remember the first day or days in Room 21 at Sawtooth Elementary in Twin Falls, ID.  What I do remember is how his passion for teaching touched a chord inside me that had been waiting to be played.

100 percent on a Social Studies test won you a full-size candy bar.  Miss one?  You were still rewarded with a piece of Hubba Bubba gum--and you could chew it IN CLASS.

Vocabulary lessons centered around involved games of Concentration on the overhead, boys against girls--I learned the definition of inane that year.

It was 1980, and Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were going head-to-head.  We drew states out of a bag and held our own election--casting votes as the electoral college and coloring the states blue or red.  Reagan won in our class, too--by an even larger margin.

I remember exactly where I was sitting and looking up at the 70's-issue classroom clock/intercom when the announcement came that President Reagan had been shot.  Ironically, we were studying the life story of "Jack" Kennedy for Reading.  He used this as a poignant teaching moment, not as a time to frighten us.

All of these lessons.  Not what he truly taught me.

Mr. Tickner reached out to an impulsive, hyper, unpopular girl.  He reached inside my soul and taught me that it was more than okay to be me--it was joyous, wonderful and spectacular to be me.  I got to be captain of teams, chew gum in class, and share answers and my viewpoint.  In his classroom and in his opinion, it was glorious to be a smart girl.  I'd never had such acceptance before, and I flourished in that environment.

It wasn't all a bed of roses, to be sure.  He caught me "assisting" a friend  on a Science quiz, surreptitiously signing the letter answers across the room.  This infraction cost me dearly--a C on my report card.  And I was humbled.

I've never forgotten the lessons learned in Room 21, nor have the memories of his lessons dimmed.  Thirty years.  And I still remember the joy of sitting on our desks watching him mediate a competitive academic game.  I can still see into that magic drawer in his desk, stewing over the Butterfinger/Snickers decision.

A few years ago, I decided to see if he was still alive--to an eleven-year-old, he'd seemed ancient, but he was probably only in his early forties at the time (gasp--that's me!).  There he was--still on the same street in Twin Falls, ID.  So I wrote him a letter of gratitude, thanking him for opening the door on my true self. Thanking him for helping me see a little of what I could become. My adult self wondered if it were even possible that he'd remember my sixth-grade self.

He did.  A few weeks later, I received a letter in the mail. He did remember.  And he was grateful that I did, too.

We all have people like Bob Tickner in our lives--those who reach that inner place and leave us forever changed.   I issue you this challenge--think of someone who has done this to you and for you, someone you've never thanked.  It could be your mom, your sixth-grade teacher, your favorite author--someone past or present.  Come back on Friday and share that hero of yours with the rest of us--I have someone in mind.  You'll be glad you did.  And so will they.

Looking forward to Friday.



  1. That is a beautiful story. My husband has told me many times how a family (he did not know well) chose to send him gifts every Christmas and birthday during his childhood. He grew up very poor. So I looked them up a few years ago and sent a thank you note. I didn't hear back but the letter was never returned to us so I hope they received it.

  2. You are a lovely person. I don't tear easily. But this story touched me. I could see your eleven year old self. I too have sat on either side of that desk. It is such an important job, and those who do it well, are far and few between. Thank you for thanking him. I am inspired. And I also want a Butterfinger : )

  3. Mine was Mr. Remineck my english professor at St. Mary's in Orinda California. I've been back to visit the college and have looked for his office, but he must have retired by now. Maybe I need to search a little harder:)

  4. I love that you did this! And I love that Mr. Tickner was still around to receive it.

    My sister is a teacher, and I know she has changed the lives of many students. What a gift she and other devoted, talented teaches are.

    I'm a big letter-writer myself. I think a handwritten note or letter from someone is a gift that lasts a lifetime. I have many that I've saved over the years, and I re-read them when I need a little boost. Of course, the ones from my kids and Dave are especially dear to me, but I have saved many from friends as well.

    I'll give this some thought and see if I can come up with something for Friday. =)

  5. I hope everyone has been fortunate enought to have a Mr. Tickner in their life at one time or another. How wonderful of you to take the time to thank him. LOVE that! I'm going to try and find my 5th grade teacher. Great post Jen!

  6. What a beautiful story. I did it. Read this post, and located my elementary school. I had a wonderful teacher who helped me through a really rough year of fourth grade. My mom died that year, and Miss Weinreib was such an angel. We moved, and I know she got married. I've lost touch with her, but am hoping the school will respond with some information. Thanks for giving me the push!

  7. Ahhh... School days... I'm thankful for Mr. Tickner, too. You always want the best teachers for your children.

  8. You always make me start thinking. . .hmmmm!!

    love this post!! My 5th grade teacher was Ms Nadowski. . .same type of experience!! Good to remember!

  9. I enjoyed this very much. Thank you for sharing it. I will think about someone I need to thank!

    P.S. I came here from Cjane's blog. It's nice to meet you!

  10. Very inspiring. After my mother passed away, about 2 years ago, I found some letters that she had gotten back from some teachers in her past...thanking HER for writing to them. So I should follow her example, and yours. I've already thought of someone...thank you!!

  11. What a great idea! Teachers - the good ones can change your whole world, can't they? He must have been thrilled to get your letter. So kind of you to think of it and follow through.

  12. what an inspiring post, jen! and so beautifully written, I loved every word and will drift off to sleep tonite pondering the possibilities - thank you!

  13. Fun memory! It definitely has me thinking!

  14. I so hope this is the year for my own girl, to love school the way you just described. you've given me hope that it just might happen.

  15. What a wonderful turning point for the 11 year old you. I'll try to join in on Friday.

  16. Jen, you really touched a chord with me. I have just recently lost my Mum after a long journey with Alzheimers. This past week my oldest daughter's school chaplain asked the parents to write a letter to our daughter telling them the good things we liked/admired about them (even if due to current circumstances it was things in the past). I sobbed as I wished I had a gift such as this from my Mum and now never would. I did this a couple of years ago to my best friend who I have known since we were five, as we were both turning 40. I know it touched her. Such a great idea and through you many more will be touched and made aware of the gifts they brought to someone elses life.

    Thanks, Catherine

  17. Such a sweet post. So glad your teacher was still around and able to be found!
    I had several favorite teachers in high school, but I can't imagine that they would remember me.

  18. Can you imagine how great he felt when he read your letter? That was such a thoughtful thing for you to do. Great post.
    Have a pretty day!

  19. That's such a nice story. I'm sure you're that to a lot of people. I can think of seven of them right off the top of my head. :)

    I'll have to think about this one...