“Miss Jackson”

Every summer, the week before school started, my friends and I would ride our bikes out to our local school to look at the class lists taped to the front door that told us what room we’d be in the next year. I was so excited when I learned I was going to get the “new teacher,” Peravena Jackson, for my fifth grade teacher.

Miss Jackson was fresh out of college, and I still remember her clearly – she loved to laugh and explore, and help her students find their super powers, and she had a beautiful smile. When Miss Jackson learned my dad was a well-known mountaineer she asked him if he would help chaperone a ski trip for her class – I still remember her enthusiasm and energy as she went skiing for the first time, and I remember she wore that beautiful smile the entire day. I remember snow flakes in her hair.

Miss Jackson nurtured the good in her students. She gave us opportunities for success. She was the first person to call me a writer – she told the entire class that I was a good writer. That meant something to me. And she knew how to tap into my desire to be the best I could be – she had daily timed quizzes on the multiplication tables and I made it my goal to be quicker each day than I was the day before. By the end of the year I was crowned the “Multiplication Queen” and could do those multiplication sheets in less than a minute. Learning those multiplication tables is something that has helped me my entire life. Miss Jackson built me up and never failed to acknowledge when I did well at something. She was my biggest advocate.

But it wasn’t just ME she nurtured. Miss Jackson – like every great teacher – brought out the best in ALL of her students. She found every student’s gifts and set about helping her students develop those gifts. All the students in her first class – each and every one of them – were blessed to have Miss Jackson for their teacher.

In sixth grade my family moved to a new home two hours away and I lost touch with my old friends and with Miss Jackson for a while. But I never forgot her. And the confidence she’d helped nurture in me stayed with me and got me through some challenging times in my new community. She’d taught me I could trust myself and my own abilities – one of the most valuable gifts anybody can give to another.

I got married when I was 27. It had been 17 years since I’d had Miss Jackson as my teacher – so when she suddenly appeared at the door to the room where I was getting put together for my wedding ceremony, it felt like magic! She gave me a big hug and I could feel her positive, joyful energy wrapping me all up in love on my special day.

For another thirty years we chiefly kept in touch with Christmas cards, but then – fifty years after I’d had “Miss Jackson” for my fifth grade teacher – I found her and two of my old elementary school classmates on Facebook. We messaged each other back and forth and in 2018 my old classmates and Peravena and I were all able to come together and be in the same room for the first time in more than five decades! It was kind of surreal, actually, and very cool!

And now here we are 55 years later. These days I find myself in an age group labeled “elderly” by some folks (which I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around – I still FEEL like I’m a “kid,” you know?). How blessed am I that my “elderly” self still has her fifth grade teacher mentoring her through the ups and downs of life? Peravena Jackson Wilson continues to inspire me and nurture the good in me. She has this uncanny ability to know just when I need an encouraging word – just when I’m starting to doubt myself and what I’m doing here, she’ll pop onto my FB wall and leave a comment that lifts me back up. Yesterday “Miss Jackson” popped onto my wall to leave me this message: “I think of you and your written thoughts when I need a positive outlook on a negative situation. Thanks again for your thoughtful written words!!” And see? Right there. My fifth grade teacher can STILL make me feel like my life has meaning and purpose, and that I matter to her. That is what great teachers do.

Great teachers never stop teaching and nurturing the good in their students – and “Miss Jackson” is one of the world’s great teachers. I’m so grateful I got to be in her fifth grade class all those years ago. And I’m so grateful I’m still connected to her today.

(The author is second from the left and “Miss Jackson” is second from the right.)