Saturday, September 10, 2016

An Inspiring Teacher #AKwritingChallenge Day 24

Growing up, I interacted with a lot of teachers. I can remember just about every single one of them, too. It's that freaky memory thing I wrote about a few weeks back. From Kindergarten on, I remember their names and some of the more memorable things they taught me. 
I loved Mrs. Johnson who was my second grade teacher. My first name is Jennifer, which is a hugely popular name for people my age. There were always at least two or three other girls with the same name in each class. Instead of calling me "Jenny N." like all the other teachers did, Mrs. Johnson called me "Jemmy". She always told me she did it because she thought I was a gem. I loved her. She switched from teaching second grade to third and I so hoped I'd get her as my teacher a second time, but it didn't work out that way. I'll always remember her, though.

Mrs. Fredrick was one of my seventh grade teachers. One semester she did a Greek mythology unit. I already loved Greek mythology, so I eagerly anticipated her class. That was one of the most fun I've ever had in school. She fueled an already building flame with her lessons. 

There were several teacher's in high school I really liked, too. Mr. Dallas and Mr. Warmack - and then there was Cindy Lopez, (Catanese now). She taught my French class and was the drama director at Clear Creek Secondary School. That woman never half-assed anything. She was amazing. She took thirteen of us kids to Europe the summer between my sophomore and junior years. She was barely over five feet tall, but was as commanding and put together as a military leader. That woman could put on the most amazing plays, and she was hilarious. She was so much fun to hang out with - and I did, a lot from tenth through twelve grade.

I could have easily chosen to write this blog about Cindy. She was a huge part of my high school existence - but I decided to write this post about a man named Jerry Cronk instead.

Mr. Cronk, or Mr. C as I've always called him, was my ninth grade science teacher. He worked at Shaw Heights Middle School, and he was my saving grace. I was never any good at science. I never had a lot of interest in the subject, and I don't remember what grade I earned in Mr. C's class when it was all said and done. What I do remember was doing a project called Sludge. There was a bunch of different things dumped in a whole lot of jars ... and we had to use scientific methods to figure out what everything was. It was gross - but it was fun. One day he told our class that ice cubes froze faster if you filled the trays with hot water. Later, he said that this wasn't really the case, but it made us all stop and think about it pretty hard. Now, every single time I fill an ice cube tray, I think about that and smile.

Halfway through my freshman year, my parents moved up to Evergreen, which was about forty-five minutes away from where I grew up. I moved in with Mimi, (my grandmother) so that I could finish out the school year in my old school with all the kids I'd known since I was small. I was very unhappy about the prospect of moving. Okay, that's a huge understatement. I was downright miserable. One of the people who got me through it was Mr. C.

Mr. C was like a dad in many ways. He wasn't like that with just me. It's astonishing, really, how many students felt taken care of and cared for by this amazing man. I cried on his shoulder more times than I can count as the days of my freshman year dwindled - but his being there for me didn't end when I moved up to the mountains.

We became pen-pals. For every letter I wrote him, I got one back. I complained to him about the wood pile outside my bedroom window, and the over long bus ride I endured every day to and from school. For three years we wrote letters back and forth, and then he took me out to lunch to celebrate once I'd graduated.

But it didn't end there.

Guess who I danced with at my wedding reception? Now I know there's got to be a photo of that somewhere ... but my wrist isn't healthy enough for me to lift and move all the bins of photos I have in my closet. I need to mention here that Cindy was also at our wedding. How cool is that? I'm still so happy they both came, and that was more than twenty years ago now.

Mr. C came and met my daughter, Maya, when she was three months old.

This beautiful girl celebrated her seventeenth birthday this past May. Mr. C may not have seen her or my son, Scott, grow up in person, but he's been there throughout every step of their lives.

Mr. C has never forgotten a single one of my birthdays, and he's supported me through a collection of surgeries, jobs, relocations and recently, the death of my beloved Mimi.
I saw him at the funeral and literally fell apart. He was there for me, just like he has been for everything else since I was fourteen years old. 
I don't write to him as much as I should. Thank goodness for Facebook. He keeps track of me that way. I'm even Facebook friends with his lovely wife, although I have yet to meet her in person. 
Is Mr. C inspiring? Without a doubt. He was the kind of teacher that so many kids need in their lives. He was the kind of teacher every parent wanted for their children. He is unselfish, kind, caring and giving. He made a scared, angry, timid fourteen year old child believe she could become whatever she wanted to be - and he was there to watch me do it. He's still there now, and I am so incredibly grateful for him.