This month at Jersey Cares we are celebrating Women’s History Month by inviting some of our friends to share their thoughts and experiences on the women who have inspired them. Today we feature a piece by Akeera Weathers, Jersey Cares Service Events Manager
I was always taught that teaching doesn’t begin in school; it starts at home, but at some point in time both environments have to coincide for the greater good of the child. Over the years, I have encountered a number of women who have taught me valuable lessons, but there is one person who will always stand out to me; my 5th grade teacher Mrs. Crystal Collins-Gardner.
My elementary school was small, so everyone knew everyone. During my 4th grade year, I remember hearing current and former students speak about how tough Mrs. Collin-Gardner was as a teacher and how mean she was to her students. Her presence caused fear in a large majority of the student body, but amongst her fellow colleagues she was highly respected. There were days when you can hear teachers, especially my teacher at the time; tell their class, “I can’t wait for you to get to Mrs. Collins-Gardner’s class”. It seemed to be an inside joke that only the faculty was in on, because students, including myself, were petrified of that dreadful day.
Over the summer I begged my parents to put me in a new school so I did not have to face her. Of course, they ignored my tearful request. Instead, on the first day of school they dropped me off with a smile on their face and gave me a chipper “Have a good day”. How could I have a good day when I was preparing to face a modern day ‘Ms. Trunchbull’? Once I heard the bell ring for students to go to their respective lines I knew there was no way out. She stood to the left of my class line with a stern face and poise posture. I remember glancing at her out the corner of my eye while saying the Pledge of Allegiance and thinking to myself, “This lady looks scary”. It was clear everyone in my class felt the same way because we walked to our third floor classroom military style. With the exception of Mrs. Collins-Gardner aggressive tone ordering us to pass to the next landing and stop at the classroom door, there was not as much of a whisper on the “upper class” floor.
As I sat at my desk I patiently waited to meet the horrible woman that so many before had spoken of. She stood in front of the classroom, looked at each of us and asked, “Who is here just to learn?” While scanning the classroom filled with raised hands she returned to her desk and said we all could pack our book bags and return to the gym. Although we were relieved, we were also confused. As we began to pack our things and form a line she stood in front of us and in a subtle voice said, “I don’t teach just so my students can learn. I teach so my students can understand; so that they can prosper and be great. You’re all potential leaders. You’re destined for greatness, but if you just want to learn and not comprehend you are more than welcome to leave my classroom. So I’ll ask again, who is here just to learn?”
Over the school year I began to realize that Mrs. Collins-Gardner wasn’t what she was portrayed to be. Yes, to a certain extent she was a tough teacher, but that was solely because she wanted the best for her students and by all means she was going to bring out the best in us. She challenged us to do better and be better, but there was something about me that ignited her to become more than my school teacher, but also my life coach. I never thought a woman I once feared would become one of the most important people in my life.
Throughout the years she has encouraged me to be better and do better. Most challenges were easily achievable, while others caused vulnerable, uncomfortable and out of the box moments. As much as I wanted to give up and take the easy way out, she was always in my corner encouraging me to take my progression in stride. I was experiencing growth pains that in the long run would make me stronger and wiser.
Tom Ziglar once said, “What you feed your mind determines your appetite.” Much gratitude is due to Mrs. Collins-Gardner for making sure I was always fed positivity and motivation. To the world she may be just a teacher, but to me she is an inspiration.