I changed jobs and started teaching third grade in a new school in August of 2006 and Debbie was one of my grade partners. It felt like my arrival as an outsider bothered her. I was given a contract and replaced a long term substitute that Debbie really liked. She and I taught in side-by-side rooms but never seemed to click and the truth of the matter is that we did not always see eye-to-eye on everything.
In June of 2009, I left the classroom to be an instructional coach.
A couple of years later, I heard Debbie would be taking the five day Writing Academy I run every summer. I was nervous and unsure how comfortable I would feel with her there. Boy, was I wrong! Everything changed after the first day. It was like a new appreciation was budding between us.
We laughed together and wrote together, and as writing does so often, we grew together.
I recall her telling me how she felt like I had found my calling in teaching others about how to teach writing. She told me that she had never had better professional development. It felt like she was seeing me for the first time and I was truly seeing her, particularly in the moments when she read her writing aloud.
The next school year, Debbie invited me into her classroom to work through a couple questions she and her co-teacher were having with conferring. I modeled some conferences for her and our debriefs were valuable to both of us. It was as if our past experiences of not always seeing eye-to-eye had melted away.
That spring, I asked the principal if my daughter could have Debbie as her teacher in the following year. I felt as if Debbie was the right match for her and would build her up in many ways.
In 2013, Sasha entered third grade as a shy, young thing and left with great confidence, a new love of math, and a truer lover of reading and writing. She had been blessed with years of great teachers but Debbie stood out with her larger than life personality. Sasha thrived in Debbie’s class. Every single time I ran into her, she would tell me some cute thing Sasha had said or she would relay a story of what Sasha had done in class. I appreciated that so much. I will always be grateful for the rich experience my daughter had under Debbie’s watch.
Yesterday, I attended Debbie’s funeral. She was 55 years young.
My heart aches for the loss of this woman who made it her purpose in life to educate 8 and 9 year olds. My heart aches for her family and for her closest teacher friends who are feeling this loss so intensely. But mostly, my heart aches for my 5 year old and 1 year old who would have loved being in Debbie’s class and for all the other future third graders who will miss out on her, too.