I was commenting on Danny at Dream Big’s Question of the Day yesterday. The question was “What is the name of the teacher who had a positive influence in your life?”
I answered very quickly and confidently with Mrs. (Lillian) Juk.
Mrs. Juk was my teacher for both grades five and seven. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be here writing this blog if it hadn’t been for her. She saw something inside of me that I never did and brought it to the light of day.
I was an average student. I struggled with math but loved English and French classes (we were the first school in our province to start French classes in grade four back in 1968). I actually didn’t love everything about English. I loved spelling, grammar, and penmanship. What I detested was writing long paragraphs and most of all, reading.
In grade five we had a school-wide concert for parents and families. I wanted to be in the choir (I still hadn’t accepted at this time the fact I couldn’t sing). Mrs. Juk was very kind and said that she had another job for me – being the narrator…for the whole show! The only thing I didn’t like about this was I had to read off a piece of paper. So, I got a friend to help me by saying the lines and I repeated them until I had them completely memorized!
It is not that I couldn’t read. I just couldn’t be bothered. (on a side note, this is about the time my clinical depression started but was not diagnosed.) In grade seven, Mrs. Juk and the librarian set up a reading contest. Their goal was to encourage kids who weren’t good readers but could be, reward those who loved to read and invite anyone else who wanted to participate. I was in the first group. My Mom was told about this before we were and she pushed me to read the 12 books on the list. I was on the last one the night before the contest and she ended up reading parts of it to me.
The contest was a bunch of quiz questions on the books we were assigned. I wasn’t planning to participate but all of a sudden I realized I knew the answers and ended up getting second place by one point! My prize was a shiny silver dollar which I still have!
From then on I was a great reader and it fueled my desire to write as well.
Mrs. Juk helped me in many ways outside the classroom as well. She knew about the bullying even though I would never say anything. She and my Mom had many meetings and both shed tears over how I was being treated. The reasons she encouraged me with public speaking and reading is she wanted me to gain some self-confidence.
I started getting braces when I was nine. I had to wear a bite plate to fix my overbite and the pink part hung down in view. I also had to wear the wire head-piece that attached to two teeth at the back and was secured around the head 24 hours a day except for eating and brushing teeth. Kids called it my football helmet. One day Mrs. Juk had an older student with braces come into class to explain why they were important and that it really hurt HER when people teased her about it. She said the braces were there to fix a problem. I all of a sudden had kids asking me what the different parts did. I wasn’t teased or bullied (at least about braces) again.
The important part about what Mrs. Juk did for me was never blatant or obvious. My name was not mentioned during the braces talk. She said that we were getting to an age where many of us would have braces and so she thought this might help the class.
While I still got bullied after grade seven and still had some self-confidence problems (I still do), I credit Mrs. Juk with helping me to rise above it all.
I went and visited her a few times as the elementary school was on my way home from junior high. However, after that, I lost touch and I found out she passed away in November 2014.
I know I was not the only student she treated this way. She was a kind and compassionate woman who wasn’t just concerned about teaching the alphabet but also preparing her students for life.
If I could see her again, I would like to think she would be proud of who I have become. And I could tell her just how big a role she had in all that.