On the last day of a conference I attended in November, I was standing in the back of the auditorium listening to George Couros convince us that teachers must embrace social media if we want to be effective educators when I received a text from a childhood friend telling me that Mrs. Pilibosian had passed away. I gasped, told my colleague next to me, and went back to listening to George.
It had not yet hit me. Mrs. Pilibosian has passed away.
Mrs. Pilibosian is the reason I am a teacher.
Mrs. Pilibosian is the reason I have opportunities to even write this blog.
Mrs. Pilibosian is my fifth-grade teacher.
Anyone who has ever heard my teacher story has heard about Mrs. P. They’ve heard stories about my first day of fifth grade where she energetically ran around the classroom punching out imaginary germs during a lesson on antibiotics. They’ve heard the story about how she buried the words “a lot” in the playground, forbidding us from ever using them in our writing. As I have said in numerous speeches over the past few years, Mrs. Pilibosian ignited a spark in me that has led me to be the teacher I am today. I knew from the first day of fifth grade that I would be a teacher. I think it’s only fitting that for more than half of my career, I have been teaching fifth grade.
When I began my Teacher of the Year Journey, which started at the school and then at the district level, I talked about Mrs. Pilibosian. My story, which is her story, was written in a local magazine. My mom made sure Mrs. P received a copy. When I applied for State Teacher of the Year, Mrs. P was part of my essays. When I was a finalist, I spoke about her during my interview, and when I was selected, she celebrated with me on social media.
Two months after my announcement as State Teacher of the Year, Mrs. Pilibosian and I met for coffee. She met my son. She told me she always knew I had something special. My awkward, self-conscious, fifth-grade self smiled. On that day, she also handed me a necklace and a card that reads: “As a former ‘star student,’ as a dear friend, and as a Virginia State Teacher of the Year, you will be interviewed, observed, critiqued, and give speeches. I love it that if at those nerve-wracking moments, you wear this and know I am with you, my sweet. Love Jan.”
I am greatly saddened by Mrs. P’s loss. I grieved for her family – her children, grandchildren, and the school community in Cranston that feels the loss in a daily presence that I don’t being states away.
I am also honored to be a part of Mrs. P’s legacy. Along with many of my childhood friends, Mrs. P was that teacher. The one who made everyone love learning.
I am incredibly grateful that 25 years after I was a student in Mrs. P’s fifth grade class, I was able to sit across from her and thank her for believing in me. For seeing potential. For making learning fun. The impact she had on my life continues to this day.
I have a responsibility to honor Mrs. P’s legacy in the way I impact my students. I recently received a Facebook message from a former student’s mother who wanted to let me know that the “somewhat nervous little fourth-grade boy will be going to Carnegie Mellon University in the fall…. He has been accepted to their BFA acting program.” She proceeded to remind me that, “You know well how even what seem like small victories at a very young age are the building blocks to the confidence we gradually possess as we mature.”
In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, make time to thank a current or former teacher, whether they be near or far. Thank yous are never overused, so write a letter, send an email, or find them on social media. Tell them how they impacted you, and how you are impacting others. Tell them how they built up your confidence, and how you are now building up confidence for other children. Tell them how thankful you are for the droplet of time they spent in your life. Because even though teachers (usually) only have students for a year, their impact lasts a lifetime.
Thank you, Mrs. Pilibosian.