As I approached the gymnasium to attend a high school graduation, my mind was flooded with memories of my youth. I have always held a unique position concerning education. I have never attended a public school, but I grew up in one. I know, it sounds like an oxymoron. I have either attended a Christian school or have been homeschooled my entire life. Yet, some of my fondest memories are set against the backdrop of a public school classroom.
I remember spending summer days in a Special Education classroom at Jessieville School in Jessieville, Arkansas. I remember the smell of chalk, pencils, and books. I remember lazy afternoons all alone in the high school or elementary library, quietly perusing the shelves, getting lost in a good book, only to find that I had to replace it before I left. After all, I wasn’t a student there. I remember the summer lunches purchased at The Shack – a cute little hamburger stand across from the school. I remember the best part of that dining experience: the Nestle Crunch bar that Mom would buy me for dessert. I remember the bulletin boards I either helped to create, or to put up. I remember the writing of student’s names inside glossy textbooks. (I secretly wished I could have one of my own.) I remember the conversations with teachers of all subjects, as they popped their heads inside Mom’s room to say “Hi Carolyn, I love that bulletin board!”
I remember my Mother discussing her day each evening at home. I can still hear her voice and her gentle way of speaking about Raymond, Shannon, Elaine, and others. They were part of our extended family, for my Mother cared deeply about each of her Special Ed. students. She knew their families well. She worked long after the last bell sounded to insure her students were learning all that they possibly could.
“Mrs. Courtney,” A lady called out to us as we were leaving the school one day. “I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for my son. He just loves you and your class so much.” She said, beaming and misty eyed. This was the mother of one of my Mom’s Special Ed. students.
“Oh, I’m so glad” Mom would say. “He is doing so much better…” and she then explained to her the technique that helped her boy succeed. I would stand next to her squinting in the hot sun, first on one foot, then the other, impatiently waiting to leave and have fun. I was oblivious to the inspiration and encouragement that my Mom was giving this lady. Mother would then go on to deflect all the praise, saying how hard he had been working or how kind he was. She would thank this lady for the encouragement, and offer to help anytime before we could go on home. This scenario would be repeated many times, with different parents and teachers before I left the Courtney household. You’ll be happy to know that I did become more patient as the years went by. Eventually, I would listen,enthralled, in these conversations. I would walk away with a heart bursting with pride that this lady walking beside me, the lady who had brought such joy to a mother, was my mother.
I don’t really understand why the Lord allowed me to be born into such a wonderful family. I was stubborn, tactless, and disobedient most of my life. I balked and even argued with my parents at different times. I was punished a lot as a child. Every fiber of my being wanted to “do my own thing”. I suppose the Lord knew that only strong, loving parents could raise someone like that. As I recall my childhood days, I see one theme emerging: the Lord’s wonderful mercy!
As I grew physically and emotionally, I finally understood what attracted my Mother to Special Education. I would one day see the pain in a mother’s eyes when her disabled child was misunderstood, mocked or both. My heart ached for them. For that moment, I would desire to be their champion, the way Mom had been.
My mother began college desiring to be a social worker, but through many twists of “fate”, she ended up being a teacher instead. She has a Bachelor’s Degree, a Master’s Degree, and is even certified to be an Elementary Principal. She was chosen as the Arkansas Young Educator of the Year at age 33. She is loved by myriad students, teachers, and parents in our area. She not only helped hundreds of children during her teaching career, but she was a witness for the Lord Jesus Christ to them as well. No, she did not lobby to have prayer re-instituted in schools. She did not carry a Bible under her arm and “preach” to the students who cursed. Instead, she smiled and greeted her students warmly as they entered her room. She offered after school tutoring – for free. She invited them to church after school. She picked them up and took them to church with our family. She gave all she could give them each day. Between the hours of 8AM and 4 PM, those kids were her passion. Her room wasn’t just books and lectures, love was there!
I suppose my Mother’s influence can be summed up by the words of one of her sixth grade English students. Mom was teaching at Bryant Elementary School. I arrived shortly before the final bell. My brother had dropped me off there because my mother would be working late. I was in the fifth grade and rather timid around the massive numbers of students that lined the hall. They stared at me, snickering, the way sixth graders do. One boy, whom I knew to be Shane, a student my Mother was tutoring, looked me over once as he left the classroom.
“Mrs. Courtney your Mom?” He asked me, with a cocky expression.
“Yes.” I said.
Yes. She surely is.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! I love you!