Unbreakable bonds

Good teachers have one thing in common. When children “graduate” from their classrooms, their students never escape their caring. Even when time and life intervene, the bond between teachers and their students goes on, even in abstentia. It is an unbreakable bond because every student takes away something from a teacher, and all teachers give away a little part of their hearts.

A few weeks ago, we received a comment on an older blog post, Paying it forward, about JMU housekeeper/musician Todd Shifflett who gives a concert for the residents of Wampler Hall twice each year. The comment was initially a question: Was this the little boy whom Ann Richards (’74) once taught?

Ann wrote: “I am a 1974 Early Childhood Education graduate of Madison College. I read your story on Todd Shifflett, the “singing housekeeper.” What a wonderful gift of talent and caring he gives the students. I am wondering, Todd, did you live in Elkton and go to Elkton Elementary School? If so, you are probably the Todd Shifflett I taught in kindergarten back in the late 70′s or early 80′s! I remember you as a very sweet little guy, and your mom was such a sweet lady. Looks like you are doing great!”

While I was getting in touch with Todd to check, Ann remembered more about the little boy.

“I feel certain it is Todd, and there is a definite resemblance to the little boy I remember. I saw him when he was a teenager at a Harlem Globetrotters game at JMU about 20 years ago. He came over to me and remembered me even though he hadn’t seen me since he was 7 or so, as I was only at Elkton Elementary for four years.”

What impressed me about Ann is that she — like so many teachers — is still interested in her former student. Teachers usually have children for only a year, yet they never seem to forget them. Education endears students to teachers forever, and students to teachers.

My youngest son will never forget his favorite teacher Sue Haley (’79, ’97M). She taught him for two years, first and second grade. He can still tell you everything about bats that he learned when she turned their classroom into a bat cave. When he graduated from high school, she sent him pictures from their class that she had taken of him. He’ll never forget her. She hasn’t forgotten him.

Successful teaching is a profession that always produces change. And for many of us, that change is profound. Perhaps it is because of that change and that teachers interact with us at the most crucial times in our lives that lasting, often lifetime, bonds are forged.

On JMU’s website right now you can read about some dedicated teachers who are producing significant change for students throughout a school system in the northern part of the Shenandoah Valley, Warren County. One of those teachers is Allison Kretlow, a professor in the College of Education. Her commitment to learning stretches far beyond the campus proper and her own COE students.

Allison and the teachers she is helping to mentor are changing the futures of hundreds of children in a real and tangible way. She and her colleagues are changing lives, not unlike Ann Richards did at Elkton many years ago when she taught Todd. Yes, JMU’s Todd Shifflett is indeed Ann’s former student. “Todd had a good heart as a little boy,” Ann wrote, “and it warms my heart to see what a caring man he is today.”

And Ann, the teacher, knows all about caring.

To read about the Warren County Reading program that is changing lives, visit: http://www.jmu.edu/bethechange/stories/warren_county_reading.shtml

And don’t skip the video.  I’m sure the little boy who got 104 words will never forget his teacher.  You’ll want to cheer!


About James Madison University
This blog is about the people of James Madison University — a caring, committed and engaged community spread all over the world, making lives better and brighter, healthier and safer, kinder and bolder. As Gandhi suggested, we are taking steps to BE the CHANGE we wish to see in the world. And these are our stories....

3 Responses to Unbreakable bonds

  1. Ann Richards says:

    I’m wondering if , being a guitar player, Todd might be going to Livingston Taylor’s concert at the Forbes Center in February. I am making the trip to Harrisonburg to see Liv, one of my favorite artists, and will be there. Would hate to miss the chance to say HI to Todd if he happened to be there.


  2. Shell Hite says:

    Awesome post, Martha…. and Oh.
    Mrs. Showker, Ms.. Ringgold, , Miss Rose, Ms. Ralston, Mrs. Lasher, Ms. Graham, Coach Peduto, Coach Long, Coach Young, Mrs. Gochenour, Ms. White, Prof. Cline, Prof. Wendelken, “Flip,” Prof. Eksterowicz and Professor Gabbin for changing my life. I APPRECIATE YOU ALL — Michelle


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