| By Debra Kirby |
National Teachers’ Day, which is observed in the United States on the first Tuesday of the first full week in May, is a great time to reflect on all the ways teachers have enriched our lives. Engaged teachers go beyond teaching their students the subject matter related to their classes—they also teach such skills as critical thinking, communication, organization, teamwork, and—in some cases—act as role models in ways that benefit their students into adulthood.
I was very fortunate to have just such a teacher: Mrs. Erma Colding, the science teacher at Harms Elementary in Detroit. Her class was the favorite of many students, and not just because it was filled with plants and animals. She was kind, engaging, encouraging, passionate about learning, and made science fun! Most of this I recognized at the time, but it was many years before I realized she had also been a role model for grace, dignity, and courage. I kept in touch with Mrs. Colding throughout my life, but only learned after her death that she was also a civil rights activist and a recipient of the prestigious NAACP Freedom and Justice Award.
I’ll bet there are thousands of teachers doing interesting and important work unrelated to their teaching careers that might surprise their students. There are also plenty of people who started out as teachers but went on to do other interesting and important work. For example, did you know that the famous people listed here were once teachers?
- Stephen King
- Sheryl Crow
- Gene Simmons
- Billy Crystal
- Hugh Jackman
- President Jimmy Carter
- President Lyndon Johnson
- J.K. Rowling
- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
You can learn more about their life and careers from Gale’s Biography In Context.
This National Teacher’s Day, I can’t tell Mrs. Colding how thankful I am for everything she taught me, but I can continue to try to live up to her example and express my appreciation to the teachers I know who share their passion for learning with their students every day.
4 thoughts on “Giving Thanks for National Teachers’ Day”
Yes Erma Colding is the best teacher I had in my life. I think I was in her first class at Harms. Went back to her class every time I came home on leave from the Air Force.
Burney Williams (Bud)
That’s pretty crazy that you shared the same teacher as our writer of this blog! Small world 🙂
Seems as though you were impacted by her amazing teaching skills as well—so nice to know teachers make such a difference in students’ lives.
Digital Marketing Coordinator, Gale
I was one of the last students to have Mrs. Colding before she retired. Had her from 97-99. She’s the reason I went on to study Biology at U of M in college. Her presence taught me that women could succeed in science. Mrs. Colding was everything. I only recently learned of her passing, unfortunately and promptly stumbled upon this article. Thank you for this.
Wow, how wonderful to find this, I was just writing a little article for my local community monthly newsletter about the reason I’m a biologist. Mrs. Colding was a HUGE influence. She always encouraged my curiosity about the natural world. But, more than anything, I thank my lucky stars for having her as a role model of kindness, caring, and humanity. Growing up in Detroit in the late 60s and early 70s was a polarizing time. In our neighborhood, racial slurs were used daily by many people in our (then) mostly white neighborhood. Desegregation and the oil crisis led to “white flight”, most of my friends left the city and it would be easy to lay blame on people of color, many did. I was one of the lucky ones though, Mrs. Colding taught me lessons about the content of character being far more important than the color of your skin without ever knowing she was doing it.
I always made it a point to visit her whenever I was back in Michigan (and school was in session), I think the last time was in the early-mid ’90s, after my time in the Army and while I was attending college in Colorado…to become a wildlife biologist. I will never forget her contributions to my life and attitude towards the world.
Thanks for the article.