An Inspiring Gift

Nov 16, 2018 | Posted by Danielle Olander


In fifth grade I attended a small Christian school in Sarasota, Florida. It was an exciting year because our classroom was on the middle school wing instead of the elementary wing. We all felt so grown up. My teacher, Miss Jones, had taught several other grades before landing in fifth grade. While I remember her lovely smile and enjoyment of jokes, I also remember her being a fairly no-nonsense teacher. As did most teachers at the school, she taught all subjects. I don't remember her ever being squeamish over science or stymied by math. She showed an enjoyment of learning that was contagious.

She also acknowledged and encouraged those who learned quickly. I never felt ashamed of being a good student in her classroom. Thirty-five years later, I can still remember one occasion when she was teaching us some finer point of English grammar. It was challenging many of the students in the class. One of the few students who understood the concept laid his head on his desk to wait for the other members of the class to catch up. A student who hadn’t yet grasped the lesson, eager to divert attention off his own lack of understanding, tattled. Miss Jones didn't miss a beat but calmly said something along the lines of, “After everyone catches on, we’ll move on to something else. Jeff is fine as he is.” That moment has remained with me as a reminder to not hold excelling students back or penalize those who understand while others are still learning.

One classroom activity in particular exemplified her love of learning and opened my eyes to the world of research. Each morning, in flowing cursive she would write a "trivia" question on the board for us to answer. Once we had finished assigned work and during a time when she was not teaching, we were allowed to go searching for the answer. On a shelf under the windows, she had a full set of World Book encyclopedias. The answers to the questions she supplied would be found somewhere between those covers. I can only remember one question (What is an archipelago?) and have long since discarded the spiral notebooks in which I collected every question that year. The task was never required; the only reward offered for those who answered every question the entire school year was a pencil. It provided a fun activity for those minutes that are so often lost in classrooms and encouraged those who were eager to learn. To this day, I absolutely love researching topics. My years as a student worker in our college library cemented that love of research that began with Miss Jones' trivia questions. I am thankful for this small habit of learning she instilled in her students.

Miss Jones made a difference in my life, and I’m so grateful. After all, she is one of the people who inspired me to also become a teacher. As I work with my students, I like to think I am carrying a bit of her wisdom and experience with me and sharing it with a whole new generation of learners. I hope that perhaps I may even be able to inspire one of my students the way she inspired me. I can’t think of a better way to say thank you than to pay the gift forward.


Danielle Olander, an IEW® Accomplished Instructor, is the author of Rockets, Radar, and Robotics. Married to her college sweetheart, Ray, and a homeschooling mom of five amazing children, she teaches several of IEW's online writing classes. After graduating from her parents’ homeschool in the pioneer days of homeschooling, Danielle graduated summa cum laude with her B.A. in English/History Education from Cornerstone University, Grand Rapids, MI.

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