Thank You, Teachers, for Your Fingerprints

I am an educator. No matter where I wander or roam, my “teacher-ness” stays faithfully by my side. But I often wonder how life has brought me to this place: teaching in a development department at an Ivy-plus, Midwestern university. I have taught high school, I have taught middle school, and I have taught internationally. Where did this instinct that follows me loyally take root?

It took root right in the Ohio Valley, my home.

Maybe it was the intuition that I would be a teacher myself one day. Something about it all clicked for me. There was something about the safety of a classroom that made coming to school such a wonderful experience for me. Nestled in my seat with my supplies in reach, I knew what was expected of me — how to act, how to dress, how to speak. There was something inherent and fundamental that hit all the right places in my growing brain and impacted me for the rest of my life.

It started as simply a trigger for my senses — the taps of keyboards, the smell of fresh copies, the sound and feel of chalk, and the books, stories, and knowledge that allowed me to see far beyond Ford Street in Moundsville.

At some indiscernible point, I began to pay attention to other things — things that would matter in my future career, only I didn’t know that’s what I was doing at the time. I just knew I liked playing school with my tattered Reader’s Digests as textbooks and my grandma as my sole (but loyal and diligent) student. I watched how my teachers spoke to me, how they carried themselves, the assignments they gave, even their movements around our desks. I saw how they timed activities and multi-tasked. I marveled at how many stacks of papers they accumulated and graded. I noted the remarks on assignments and even how the grades were written at the top of the returned work.

It’s amazing what our brains do with the information they process. It comes out at times, and we don’t even realize it. For me, I can see it in myself as an educator, like a kaleidoscope of experiences and learned traits. In my personal life, I am introverted at an extreme level, but as a teacher, I talk to my students like they are part of my inner circle — because they are. I can step outside myself to watch how I run my classroom, to listen to the words I choose and the decisions I make, and every time, I wonder how in the hell I got to be good at this complex and all-encompassing job.

I’ll tell you how: Because I had excellent role models. I had teachers who gave me the teaching soul I have today. I am a mosaic of their influence, and I am still learning from the tops of their shoulders. I see the poised stature of Ms. Stella Strickling, the warm humor of Mrs. Sandy McCombs, the flame for history of Mr. David Rutherford and Mr. Michael Pivik, the stellar curriculum of Mr. Danny Prado, the compassion and dedication of Mrs. Linda Brinkman, the care and patience of Mr. Michael Hince, the energy of Ms. Linda Berkoben, the kindness of Mrs. Mary Hanley, the lessons (ones that I steal to this very day) of Mrs. Sheila Pell, the love of literature of Mrs. Erma Melvin, the jokes of Mr. Richard Knoblich, the laugh of Mrs. Sharon Garten — and the genuine love for us students in them all.

In “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” Albus Dumbledore says to Harry that love leaves marks on those whose lives it touches — not scars, but protection — and it’s on their very skin, like fingerprints.

Thank you, teachers, for your fingerprints.

Andrea Hodgman is a 2008 graduate of West Liberty University and a 2010 graduate of West Virginia University. She works for the University of Chicago in Alumni Relations and Development as an education specialist and technology trainer. She has taught in West Virginia, Chicago, and Radom, Poland.