July Inspired2Educate Winner

Stephanie Anderson
4th grade math teacher
Oologah-Talala Upper Elementary
Oologah , Oklahoma

I was one of “those” children. The student that the teacher’s would whisper about, I was often referred to the counselor’s office. I was by no means a discipline problem. I was an invisible child; I tried my best to blend in. I rarely spoke; I never made eye contact, and always kept my head down. I would come to school hungry, tired, and dirty. I was labeled “failure to thrive” on more than one occasion.

There was nothing the school officials could do; I did not have any bruises or any other signs of abuse. My parents were just not emotionally or physically available. My mother worked evenings, and my father would come out of his room long enough to heat up a cardboard pizza. We were allowed to stay up as late as we wanted, most of the time falling asleep on the floor, in front of the television.

The first week of fourth grade, I sat through class absolutely miserable. It was hard for me, I struggled to pay attention. I was tired and could only focus on my growling stomach. I rarely participated in class, I did not want to hold my hand up and draw attention, to the fact that I was still wearing the clothing from the day before. I rarely made eye contact with anyone. I had no friends. I just wanted to be invisible. Mrs. Horton gradually gained my trust and took me under her wing. At first it started with a donut. I compare it to feeding stray dogs scraps, just to be able to be able to build enough trust, to pet it.

I would go straight in to Mrs. Horton’s classroom after I got off the bus. She would pull my hair back into a ponytail, tell me to go wash my face, and remind me to wear clean clothes. After weeks of not turning in homework, Mrs. Horton had finally had enough. She pulled me into the hallway and gave me the “You have to be responsible for yourself” lecture. Mrs. Horton informed me, that she would no longer wash my face, or brush my hair, or feed me before school, it was now MY responsibility. I grew more than just academically that year. I gradually learned how to comb my hair, clean my face, and fix my own breakfast. By the end of the year, I was able to hold my head up higher. I started participating in class, I actually made friends at school, and even started turning in homework.

That summer I managed to talk my parents into signing me up for little league. I walked myself to the softball fields for games, washed my own uniform, and begged other parents for rides to out of town games. I even spotted Mrs. Horton smiling from the bleachers during one of them. My sophomore and junior year, my softball team, went on to win state championships. I was part of a team, I was holding my head up, and I was NOT invisible.

Fast forward to my Senior year…. I fell into the wrong crowd and made some pretty bad life choices. As a result, I ended up pregnant. After the birth of my daughter, I was ready to quit school. I was assigned a random homebound teacher, through the teacher pool. I reluctantly opened the door, and Mrs. Horton was standing on my mom’s porch with assignments in hand. I struggled through those six weeks. Mrs. Horton again taught me, things outside of my assignments. I learned how to hold a bottle correctly, how to cradle a baby while doing an assignment, and probably one of the best lessons in life. If I wanted to give my baby a good life, I HAD to get an education. An education was the ONLY way out of my predicament. I studied hard my senior year, I even made to honor roll for the first time!

I am proud to say, that not only do I teach 4th grade math. I teach fourth grade math in Mrs. Horton’s old room. It was a very humbling experience for me, to see Mrs. Horton at the teachers annual retirement luncheon. I could not find her fast enough, to tell her, I did it!

I enter the classroom every day, trying to spot the invisible students. I ask my students to hold their heads high, to take pride in themselves and their work. I also give the occasional, “You have to be responsible for yourself” lecture. I try to pay back, the wisdom, the kindness, and patience that was bestowed upon me by one Mrs. Phyllis Horton.