Most of us have a teacher who encouraged us to become our best. On National Teacher’s Day, I wish to honor my favorite teacher, Mrs. Wilma Skinner.
by Peggy Browning
“One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” — Carl Jung
I have no doubt that teachers make a difference in children’s lives. Mrs. Wilma Skinner was the teacher who made the biggest impact on my life. She died twenty years ago at the age of 68 from complications of a stroke.
Mrs. Skinner’s death was properly noted in the obituary section of this newspaper. The notice named her loving children, the time of the funeral service and a few of the accomplishments she achieved during her lifetime.
When I read the announcement of Mrs. Skinner’s death, I could only feel that the obituary was incomplete. It correctly stated that she was a retired teacher who taught at Midway and Bellevue Schools and Midwestern State University but said nothing of what a wise and wonderful woman she was. It never mentioned the impact she had on the lives of at least two generations of students from the tiny country schools where she taught.
Perhaps that was because there isn’t enough room in an entire newspaper to tell what Mrs. Skinner gave her students. A few inches in the obituary section certainly couldn’t cover the importance of her influence in our lives.
To fully describe Mrs. Skinner would have required interviews with all the people who loved her. And there were many of us.
Simply put, Mrs. Skinner was the best teacher I have ever known. I had the good fortune to be her student for several years. Mrs. Skinner taught fifth and sixth grade reading, handwriting, and grammar at small, rural, Midway School situated between the communities of Joy and Bluegrove, Texas.
I loved my first grade teacher, my second grade teacher, and my third grade teacher. I was afraid of my fourth grade teacher. In fifth grade, Mrs. Skinner became my most very favorite teacher ever and she remains so today. I mourned when I had to leave her class to go on to the 7th grade even though at Midway that meant that you only moved down the long hall to the other end of the school.
And then I rejoiced in 8th grade when Mrs. Skinner “graduated” to high school where she became the junior high and high school English teacher.
Mrs. Skinner had that rare ability to detect your hidden strengths and praise you for them. She challenged us to do our very best, but never chastised us if we fell short of her expectations. She knew our talents and she had faith that eventually we would recognize them too..
I feel like Mrs. Skinner taught me almost every important thing that I know. She certainly gave me many of the skills that I use every day. She taught me everything I know about writing: correct usage of grammar and not to add a bunch of baloney to your story just to fill up space.
Mrs. Skinner shared her love of the written word with us and allowed us to develop our own love of it. She encouraged us to find words of our own and gave us the knowledge we needed to do it.
I have many beloved memories of Wilma Skinner.
I remember her patience while she tried to teach me the finer points of handwriting in 5th grade. I remember that she practiced with me after school to prepare for the district spelling bee. I also remember my pride when she reported in her current events section on the blackboard that I won 3rd place in that competition.
I even remember her amused expression when she explained that “motley” had meanings other than this little country girl’s definition of an “old, motley-faced cow.”
I remember her merrily singing “O, Henry “ at the top of her lungs on the school bus during annual class trips to Wichita Falls. And I remember her laughing after Junior Smothers told a ribald joke in the school hallway when he thought she was out of earshot.
Mrs. Skinner introduced us to Shakespeare and William Faulkner, Sara Teasdale and the Bronte’ sisters, Edgar Allen Poe and Christina Rosetti. She showed us a world beyond the dairy farms and ranches where we lived: a world of dreams where anything we aspired to was possible. She showed us our potential and gave us the belief that we could accomplish whatever we desired to do. And she did so with compassion and understanding.
Mrs. Skinner understood that we needed to know more about life skills than about language skills and she proceeded to tell us some of the lessons she had learned.
National Teacher’s Day
When I had a mad crush on a boy who had more looks than brains and who didn’t reciprocate my affection, Mrs. Skinner kindly told me that boys don’t like girls who are smarter than they. She added that I should never pretend to be dumb, but instead to look for boys who were as smart as I.
Once when I was still in “flower child” mode, she and I debated over the goodness that I believed existed in everyone. She believed the opposite. In the years after high school I often thought of that when I encountered those people who are not inherently good. Only then did I appreciate her wise counsel.
Mrs. Skinner was not the teacher to whom you went with your problems, although you could have done that and she would have listened.
No, she was the teacher with whom you shared your dreams and knew she could give you credible advice and would never make you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable with your feelings. She was the one who validated your ticket to fly among the stars.
I still cherish a worn piece of paper with a descriptive essay written upon it. Not because I received an ‘A’ on my effort, but because Mrs. Skinner added “beautiful” next to the grade. It is tucked away among my treasures because her favor is still valuable to me.
I always felt like I was Mrs. Skinner’s “special student.” So did everyone else.
She had the gift of making all her students feel special. Perhaps it was because she really believed they were.
Years after I graduated from Midway High School and became a teacher myself, I asked Mrs. Skinner how she always managed to treat her students with such respect and caring. She told me she prayed every morning for them and asked for wisdom and the ability to teach them the things they needed to know.
I hope she rests well knowing her prayers were answered.
Why do we wait until National Teacher’s Day to honor our favorite teacher?