I watched from the car. First a trickle, then a stream, and finally, a sea of maroon-and-gray plaid poured from the elementary building as I patiently waited in the carpool line. How many times had I strained to find my daughter amid the end-of-the-school-day chatter? I learned years ago that my best chance of locating a child amongst the lunch boxes and backpacks was to look for her teacher.
Using my clever strategy, I quickly located her teacher. As always, she exuded kindness and delight in her little ones, and I was blessed to have my youngest in her classroom. As the cars slowly crawled forward, dashboard name cards were read, students were located, and parents and children were reunited. My SUV crept to a stop, and I soaked in the beauty of my little girl as she stood behind the yellow line, awaiting her turn to bounce from the teacher’s charge back into my care.
Her enthusiastic narrative of the day’s events began even before the car door closed or the seat belt was buckled across her booster. “I have THE COOLEST teacher in the third grade! She turned forty today and did a cartwheel right in the middle of the classroom to celebrate! She is SO COOL!” I always looked forward to hearing about her day, but that certainly wasn’t what I had expected. Somehow, I was not surprised. I felt my smile broaden.
Another day, hoping to win a pizza party for her classroom, my daughter sneaked a one-hundred-dollar bill a relative had given her into the fundraiser collection jar. The grand prize had proved too tempting for my little pizza lover. This kindhearted teacher handled the situation with the same delicacy that I, as her mother, would have. We later laughed, wondering how many pizzas that money could have bought!
School years came and went, and this godly woman remained attuned to her, never failing to call her by name on campus, or when our cart found hers in the grocery store. I had a long-term illness when my daughter was a high school sophomore, and although she was a teenager, I worried. Who would be there for her? Her third-grade teacher stepped in without hesitation, wrapped her arms around my child, and eagerly became her after-school chauffeur.
I was able to rest easy, knowing she was receiving care from someone she loved and trusted.
A few years ago this dear lady was diagnosed with breast cancer. Rather than have a class full of eight-year-olds witness her struggle through treatment and recovery, she began a unique project which she called “Hair Watch.” Each day her third-graders eagerly burst into the classroom to see just how much her hair had grown overnight. Clearly, they too, thought she was cool!
It’s been sixteen years since she cartwheeled across that classroom, but these stories easily come to mind when I think of her. She held herself with poise and grace, and encouraged her students to be confident and kind. She was the woman I trusted all those years ago when I watched my smallest treasure joyfully skip into the elementary building, ponytail dancing.
This past June I received a heartfelt text from my daughter. “She’s gone, Mom. I am so sad.” After defying cancer once, this time her battle had been more fierce. Just a few short months after her diagnosis, she left this world one morning to wake up in the arms of Jesus. Our entire community still mourns the loss of this beautiful, vibrant soul who brought joy to so many.
As a woman who never married or birthed children of her own, she spent more waking hours with her students each day than did their own mothers. For twenty-five years (4,500 school days, or 36,000 hours—give or take a few) she turned learning into play, and her students felt safe and seen. She was the most requested third-grade teacher at the school, and in her time there, over six hundred precious children hung their backpacks in her classroom.
My carpool days are now in the rear view mirror, but I am reminded of the afternoons I looked for her bright smile, knowing my child wasn’t far away. I am blessed to have known her, and am even more grateful for this loving teacher, a mother in her own right, who provided my daughter with the same kind of motherly care I would have, throughout that school year, and beyond.
She was, indeed, the coolest teacher in the third grade.
She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.—Proverbs 31:6
Wendy Lipham lives in Mobile, Alabama, where she has taught interview and communication skills for the past twenty years. Having heard God’s call to work with women who have experienced sexual trauma, she is further inspired by the growth of her “Beautifully Broken” story group. She enjoys playing the piano, needlepoint, and, most of all, loves living life beside her husband and listening to the laughter of their six precious grandchildren.