Sister shares much through her teaching

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 4, 2001

A group of second-graders at Ridgeway Elementary School in Memphis, Tenn., has a surprise waiting for them on Monday.

They’re about to embark on a little adventure with a student teacher. They will only know her for about two months, but a lot can happen in two months.

I have had wonderful teachers – some for just two weeks or a month – who have changed my life.

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The soft-spoken, bearded poet I met at Tennessee’s month-long Governor’s School for the Humanities taught me that simple words are the most beautiful.

The former lawyer turned journalism professor at the same summer workshop taught me about the basic rules of newspaper writing – the five Ws and the H – but he also taught me that working on deadline can be great fun.

And my own second-grade teacher, a rosy-cheeked woman in her first job, won me over in about two minutes.

Mrs. Shields had a corner of the room reserved just for reading and writing. There I discovered Shel Silverstein and Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read, and then I wrote – silly stories about my stuffed dog and my family. I learned punctuation on my own. I learned what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

And then there is my sister, perhaps the most important teacher in my life.

She taught me all the practical things: how to ride a bike, how to use the telephone, how to climb a tree.

Later, she taught me even more: how to drive, how to spot a bargain, how to make really good potato cheese soup.

And now that I am older, I can look back at the other lessons I learned from her.

She taught me to be resourceful. My mother says Wendy’s favorite saying as a child was &uot;I’m bored,&uot; but I can’t see how that’s possible. She was always moving, always finding something new to play with, whether it was turning the couch cushions into a fortress or catching fireflies in the backyard.

She taught me that I am funny. I think I was in middle school the first time I realized I could make my sister laugh. It was a wonderful sound.

I know I wasn’t always fun; I was the tag-a-long little sister she had to take care of. She may have complained then, but I don’t remember it now. When my big sister took time to play with me, she taught me I was important.

Even now, when she spends time with me, it is the greatest gift. Just a few months ago, she took a vacation to Seattle to visit a friend. The postcard she sent back said, &uot;You have to come with me next time I go!&uot; I just smiled at the thought: My sister wanted to spend time with me.

But the most important lesson Wendy taught me is to dream – and to believe that anything is possible as long as she believes in me.

Those second-graders in Memphis have a special treat with their student teacher for the next two months.

She’s been preparing for them. She’s even learning Spanish for a couple of them.

I hope they make the most of their time with Miss Whipple.

It is what I have tried to do.

Kerry Whipple is news editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 445-3562 or by e-mail at kerry.whipple@