Most writers who have been published for a while have heard from readers about how we've changed their lives in some way. Last time I received one of these messages made me think about who changed my life and possibly created a desire to do what I do. Of course, my family played a major role, but so did many of my friends and some of my teachers.
I think all of us have favorite teachers who gave us confidence, taught us something we still use, or offered kind words when we needed them. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Mildred Cooper, showed patience and compassion as I adjusted to the new setting in Orlando after we moved from Mississippi mid-year. Ms. Donna Chun, my favorite high school P.E. teacher, was an example of a very feminine woman who loved sports and fitness, and she acknowledged and praised sincere efforts. Mr. Zan Skelton from Biloxi High School encouraged me to do something with my writing because he said I had a unique and unexpected way of relaying information in my essays. And then there's Mr. Ohashi who taught speech at Radford High School in Hawaii. He had a great balance of discipline and fun in the classroom.
|Mr. Wayne Ohashi|
I've stayed in contact with Wayne Ohashi who still makes me smile to this day. I'm sure he never saw me as a future author because in his class, one of my closest friends Mary Lou Holmes (Hardisty) and I were so silly. But he accepted us where we were at that time, and he worked with what he had. I still give him credit for showing me some of the techniques of getting and holding an audience's attention when I have to give presentations to groups. He also enabled and encouraged us to think "outside the box" while telling stories during our speeches.
Since Mr. Ohashi was such an influence in my life, I decided to talk to him about his experience at Radford High School that served military "brats" from Hickam Air Force Base and Pearl Harbor. I asked him how he dealt with the revolving door of students whose parents were transferred at all times of the year.
"I've always felt that Radford was and is probably the most interesting school to teach at because of the diverse student body," he replied. "Sure, there were problems with students coming and going all year, but because they'd been to so many different places around the world, I enjoyed hearing about their experiences."
Although Mr. Ohashi's band teacher influenced him to become an educator, he chose to teach other subjects. In addition to speech and drama, he became certified in several other disciplines as the need arose at the school, and he coached wrestling. This gave him the opportunity to work with a wider variety of students.
"One of my former wrestlers joined the Marines and flew for them. Now he's a pilot for United Airlines. Another student recently retired as an instructor pilot for Delta," he said. "On the way to visit my cousin in Gainesville, Florida, I stopped at a strip mall to get something to drink. As I was walking around, a guy came running out from an office and told me I'd been his teacher. Fortunately, I remembered him. He was the campaign manager for a politician. Other former students include a chef, teacher, school bus driver, auto parts store manager, UPS driver, accountant, nurse, owner of storage units, defense contractor, and who knows what else?"
I asked him if he had his life to do over, would he still become a teacher. "Because of all the people I've met, I don't regret my decision. However, now that I'm retired and have time to get involved in different areas, I think I might have enjoyed being a biology teacher or a researcher."
I think he was surprised by how much he influenced my life. "Who would have thought you'd become an author?" he joked. "It is extremely rewarding when kids have 'aha' moments or when they come back and mention how much they were helped by what they learned in my class." Mr. Ohashi went on to say that if he were to start teaching now he'd get more involved with students who weren't perceived as good students. I asked friends on Facebook if they remembered him and had immediate responses from another close friend Teriann Kimbrell (Selby) and journalist Burl Burlingame who also had fond memories of him after all these years.
One of the highlights of my adult life was when my husband and I returned to Hawaii almost 30 years ago. I'll never forget standing outside the Outrigger Hotel and chatting with Wayne Ohashi, my old friend Mary Lou, and her husband Rob. It brought back so many warm memories, and it made me realize how great of an impact these people had on me.
After reading Darrel Nelson's blog post last month, I know that his wife influenced his writing. Is there someone in your life – a teacher or mentor – who influenced you to become what you are now?