First grade is the earliest year of school I can recall in vivid detail. If you’d ever like to hear my first grade stories, be sure to check out my upcoming podcast (maybe). This was the year first year we had to wear our catholic school uniform, the first year where we had desks instead of collaborative tables, and the first year that we didn’t have naps built into our school day. Needless to say, I still long for those mid-day naps. It was also the first year where you had homework and had lunch with the older grades. My first grade year was a crucial milestone in my educational career and one in which would shape me for years to come.
My first grade teacher was Mrs. Sickora. She taught us every subject and guided our young, budding minds through many learning endeavors. Mrs. Sickora was not strict in the way some think about Catholic school, rather she was firm and pushed us to develop essential skills and think creatively about the concepts we were learning.
Mrs. Sickora and her family also went to our church. At the time, I was amazed that teacher’s lived outside of the school building. In my little world, I assumed that teachers lived in their classrooms and never left the building. I was shocked, at the time, to realize that my teachers actually had lives outside of the classroom and went to the grocery store just like my Mom did.
I recall learning addition and subtraction in Mrs. Sickora’s classroom with buttons that we all solicited from our Grandmothers. I remember my grandmother Marcinek collecting all of her buttons for me and sending me off to school with them. They would be one of the earliest learning tools I leveraged to really grasp and visualize the key concepts of addition and subtraction. I also recall bringing this tin of buttons to school and dropping them on the playground before school. The buttons scattered all over and I was utterly embarrassed and humiliated. My Charlie Brown shaped head quickly sunk as bubble cloud above my head read, “Good grief”. Mrs. Sickora was there to help pick them up with me and as we did, we counted them as we placed them back into the tin. It was what I would later recall in my career as a “teachable moment”. And that moment still resonates with me today and the large impact teachers have on us during seminal moments in our lives.
That was 31 years ago. And, Mrs. Sickora is still teaching. She has inspired generations of students and teachers in her career and is still sharing her love of learning with an entirely new generation of students. Since my time in her first grade classroom, Mrs. Sickora and her family have become great friends of our family. And, throughout the past 31 years since I was in her classroom, Mrs. Sickora has always asked how I was doing. When I became a teacher I shared my experience with her and I know she was very proud. When I published my first book on educational technology, I made sure she had a signed copy. When I accepted a fellowship with the United States Department of Education, she was one of the first to know. Mrs. Sickora has invested her entire life in caring about the students she’s taught and helped many students pick up their buttons.
And today, I wanted to take a moment to write this reflection and say thank you to Mrs. Sickora. And, all of the dedicated teachers out there who have made big dents in the educational experiences of their students. I didn’t get into teaching because of the fame and fortune that comes with it, rather, I got into teaching because I wanted to be like Mrs. Sickora, like my 11th grade English teacher, Ms. Stellfox, like my Aunt Leona who taught home economics her entire life, like my Uncle Mike who taught history for his entire career, and all the other teachers who have inspired me and helped me pick up my buttons, thank you.