Learning to Fly
The best teacher you ever had might be closer than you think.

Reading, reading, she was always reading. Most often, she read at the kitchen table but she also read in bed, she read on a blanket on the grass, she read on the couch, she read in front of the TV, she read and read and read, and it drove us kids crazy how we’d have to repeat ourselves a minimum of three times before she’d mark her spot and look up at us, eyes far away, as if for a moment she couldn’t quite place us, couldn’t quite remember just who we were or what we wanted from her. But when she read out loud to me, I discovered exactly how intoxicating it feels to be lost in a book. In my memory, we are in a room and it is daytime and she is perched on a high three-legged stool. I am at her feet and she is reading, and I don’t want her to ever, ever stop. She read “Black Beauty” and “Swiss Family Robinson” and “Hans Brinker,” every day a new chapter, worlds unfolding like a kaleidoscope, images layering one atop the next: noble horses and shipwrecked families and brave Dutch children, firing my imagination with stories, leaving me with my own pair of faraway eyes.

Beyond teaching me to love stories, she taught me without my even knowing I was being taught, perhaps the smartest way to reach a child. She made up a game with index cards on the floor, leading in curving pathways from one room to the next. As I learned the definitions of the increasingly harder words that were written on each, I would get a prize. But none of the trinkets were as thrilling as when I came up with the correct definition of “gargantuan,” and she told me I was smart and talented and could be anything I wanted when I grew up.

The truth is, she never stopped teaching me. When Miss Avitable told the entire second grade classroom that I didn’t have any friends and I went home crying so hard I started hiccupping, my mom marched over to the school and yelled at the teacher, then she stormed off to the principal and read him the riot act for awhile, and to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t be surprised if she wound up hollering at the entire school board. She taught me that she was on my side, always, and she taught me that no one is allowed to make me feel bad, not even me.

Over the years, she’s kept right on teaching me, modeling compassion and loyalty, generosity and humor, righteous anger tempered with empathy. And when I think about her, the best teacher I ever had, I know that I am lucky to have a mother who cared so much about expanding my mind and feeding my soul with challenges and praise and high expectations.

And I am at least as proud of her as she is of me. That’s saying a lot, because as we all know, great moms take great pride in their children, and mine is no exception. As you read this issue built around the theme of education, take a moment to think of those who taught you all you know. And if you’d like to share, by all means, let me know, because I still love a good story.

— Julene Snyder, Editor