That’s a picture of my paternal grandparents, Howell and Irene Loper. My grandmother, Irene Garris Loper, was a school teacher in the same district I work in now. She got her education degree at Florida State Women’s College (now Florida State University). She taught in other counties before she settled with my grandfather and my father (and later my three uncles) in Hillsborough County in 1948. She taught at Lois and Broward Elementary schools in Tampa during the 50s, 60s and 70s.
At her funeral in 2004, an anonymous woman turned in a letter to be read by the pastor. She had been a student of my grandmother’s, and the letter describes how on one Christmas, my grandmother changed her life.
This is what the letter said*:
“I was in Irene Loper’s fourth grade class at Lois Elementary School and I have a little story to share with you. It was Christmas time and my family was very poor. … I was the third child of four born into our family. Money was always an issue and the year was an especially hard one. I was only 9 years old. I was dirty, with dirty hair and dirty clothes. The lunchroom ladies would hold me on their laps and try to feed me because I was so tiny and skinny.
The last day before Christmas break, Mrs. Loper asked her students what their families were planning for Christmas. Everyone else raised their hands so they could share their stories. Mrs. Loper asked me what my family would be doing … and I shrugged. She asked if we had a tree up yet and tears welled up in my eyes. The class giggled, but she quieted them and moved on to the next student.
Later, Mrs. Loper asked me to stay after school. I just knew I was in trouble. She told me that she needed a “special” helper to take down the class Christmas tree. Once we finished taking off the decorations, she told me I could take the tree home. Even after dragging it on the ground a few blocks to get back to my house, it was still the most beautiful tree in the world.
As I put up the tree with my brother, I found one small, blue bell ornament still attached. Now, every year since that Christmas, I still adorn our family tree with that little blue bell. It is the pride of the tree, of a memory of kindness shown to a child when it was needed most.”
I go back and reread this story every year. It reminds me of the impact we make on our students as educators. This woman had not seen my grandmother for forty years, but she still remembered this act of kindness. Never doubt that you make a difference in the lives of your students. Even the smallest act of kindness can reverberate for years.
May you have a wonderful holiday season full of joy and inspiration. Merry Christmas.
*I edited a few parts to make it flow better. Original text came from a reprint of the letter in this article: HILL, J. (2006, Dec 24). Teacher’s Act Of Kindness Still Rings True – By JUDY HILL. Tampa Tribune, The (FL), p. 1.