One defining characteristic of our family, in addition to an abundance of love and humor, is education. All of our immediate family, including our husbands, are educators. As you might imagine, all things teaching, leading, and learning are common if not constant topics of discussion any time we gather.
For me and my sister, Cynthia, these discussions began as early as we can remember, usually around the dinner table. Mom and Dad would reflect on their days, toss around new ideas, or debate the current issues. Their passion and dedication to what they clearly knew was their calling, was obvious and admirable.
Our Mom spent 33 years as a classroom teacher, teaching 2nd – 6th grade, in several states. While she instilled so much faith and many life lessons in us, she also gave us both the foundation of what it means to be an excellent educator.
- Celebrating student differences & appreciating the uniqueness in all kids. Melody: Among countless stories, one that sticks out in my memory the most is the year Mom had John in class. John by all accounts was a precocious, unique student who likely tested many of his teachers throughout the years. From what I could gather, he was full of energy and distractions. In other words, John was not the naturally compliant, teacher-pleaser kid that you might imagine would be one of our mom’s most beloved students. But night after night, sitting around the dinner table, our mom would recount the latest John story. Like the time he came racing out into the hallway exclaiming, “Mrs. Pruitt, come back! It’s like a talk show without a host in there!” Or when she turned on the Christmas lights, and John, looking wide-eyed at the tree, asked, “Can we just sit here and gaze with wonder?” I knew enough to know John was a handful, but Mom kept appreciating John for who John was. Instead of harping on the perseverance required to keep him on task, she appreciated and celebrated what made him unique.
- There are no bad kids. Only good kids who’ve made bad decisions. Melody: Driving past a local prison, one of my own kids turned to their grandmother and asked, “Mum, is that where they put all the bad people?” She answered, “Tanner, there aren’t bad people. Only good people who’ve made bad decisions.” This belief translated in a powerful way to our mother’s actions as a teacher and is a powerful reminder in the belief and respect that we should have for all people.
- The importance of Community building Cynthia: When planning my first days as a first year teacher Mom suggested what she had done in her classroom the first days of school. She would present construction paper houses for students to decorate, allowing students to showcase their personalities in their dream house. The colorful houses were then laminated and displayed side by side in the hallway, like a miniature neighborhood with trees. She told me that the houses represented the classroom community. The importance of this community did not hit me until I saw it in my own classroom. Successful classrooms provide a sense of belonging. This tradition of building our community started every first day in my classroom using the same pattern my mom used in her classroom.
- Never teach the same lesson twice. Cynthia: Mom’s last year teaching she was on a team with a first year teacher who made the comment that mom never stopped searching for ideas, even though she had a library full of successful lessons. My mom understood that good teaching requires teaching the students in front of you, not the students you had last year, and there’s no such thing as a perfect lesson. She never stopped learning and growing as an educator.
- We are advocates for our profession. Melody: As others jump on the bandwagon of bashing public education, Mom taught us that we need to be the voice that shares all of the awesomeness that happens in our schools. Her belief that a quality public education can be a game changer for so many that have been dealt a rough hand in life was her purpose and why.
- Surround yourself with positivity. Cynthia: There are two types of people in the world: the glass is half full or half empty. After the bell rings, and the kids were gone for the day mom would find the glass is half full kind of teachers. The people that would see the positive in a situation and leave you with hope for the next day. We have worked with kids in situations that could make our outlook on life a little grayer, but when following my mother’s example, we choose to surround ourselves with the people that always see the glass half full helping us know there’s always hope in tomorrow.
- Balance. Cynthia: We spent many days over the summer at school as my mom starting unpacking her classroom and planning for the new year. Our Sunday family tradition was for dad to cook some extravagant meal while mom sat at the kitchen table grading papers and making plans for the following week. I also remember mom getting home in the afternoons early enough to watch Little House on the Prairie with us. Mom asked me recently if I felt like she spent too much time at school, hinting that she could hear the mom guilt I have myself as an educator, often feeling like I neglect my own children for the hundreds of children I serve. My answer was a hard no. Growing up I never felt ignored, but always saw my mom as a provider to our family and to the profession I know she was made for.
- The impact you have as a teacher is never ending. Cynthia: Both Melody and I have run into people where they’ve stopped to tell us how our mom was their favorite teacher, always being said with a big smile. When they start talking about her and how much she means to them, you can tell it’s an authentic confession. I’ve asked several people why she is their favorite out of all of the others, and the answer is always different, but the smile is always the same. As educators we interact with a multitude of people throughout the day. My biggest hope is that in those little interactions, I make people feel the same way Mom’s former students still feel about her.
- Believing in all kids. Melody: Nothing would fire our mom up more than to hear a teacher, pointing to a group of high-achieving students, say, “Those are the ones we need to invest in. They are going to be the leaders of the future.” She would passionately argue that we need to be investing in ALL kids. They all have greatness to share with the world and they each need our belief in them to be able to realize that greatness.
- Learning should be fun. Melody: As a high school math teacher, I many times felt like an elementary teacher plopped into the high school world. My innate desire to make learning fun for my students, many of whom had come to dread math or school, in general, came from what I’d learned from watching my mom. She was always looking for creative ways to engage her students and draw them into the fun of learning. A new idea would excite her and her passion was contagious.
Our mom is pretty amazing. She’s patient, loving, sees the best in others and is a constant cheerleader for her husband, daughters, sons-in-law and grandchildren. She has played each of the roles a mom has to step into with grace and is a model for us in so many ways. Her lessons she’s taught us about the power of an educator has inspired us to take the torch and attempt to do it justice.
Which of these inspirational messages speaks to you? We’d love to hear from and connect with you! Tweet us @cynthiabruno and @me1odystacy or comment below!
I’ve been around long enough to see Wanda’s passion as a teacher and to hear many of the stories shared in the blog. Her and Gary (along with Mel) are definitely part of the reason I became an educator. Happy Mother’s Day, Wanda and congratulations on an amazing legacy!