Since 2017, Charter School Capital has held an annual essay contest celebrating exceptional teachers. We call it the Dewey Awards, in celebration of Mr. Richard Dewey – a teacher who provided exceptional mentorship to our founder and CEO, Stuart Ellis. Every year we get a brilliant selection of stories written by students from charter schools all over the nation. This year’s winners are featured here. But each of these stories is worth sharing.
This week we bring you a story written by Cynthe Burbidge, about Mr. Lacey of Faith Academy, in Manila, in the Philippines.
The wall of hot sticky moisture greeted my 9-year-old body as I stepped out of the cool air-conditioned van, backpack on my shoulders, and my unkempt long mousy hair still plastered to my neck despite the twenty-minute respite from the heat the ride to school provided. I was still getting used to this humidity, among other strange and unfamiliar encounters that daily racked my senses.
I looked around me, shy and stunned by the swarm of students flooding the hallways. The last two years of my life had been spent in a van very different than the one I was exiting. Most of my education up to this point had been with my mother as my teacher and the van as my schoolhouse. We were missionaries, we spent two years raising enough support to make this trek across the world to another country, two years visiting churches, sleeping in unfamiliar beds, and eating unfamiliar dinners with unfamiliar faces. You would think unfamiliar had started to become familiar to me.
But this was a whole different level of strangeness. Everything from taste to touch to smell was new.
And it had been three years since I had stepped foot in a schoolroom. As I stepped up those tenacious cement stairs to my classroom, my palms were sweaty but not from the heat, and my heart raced in my chest. I didn’t know what to do here.
At that moment, the warmest smile I had ever seen in my life greeted me. It was my 4th-grade teacher, Mr. Lacey. I’ll never forget his balding head and glasses and that gentle grin of his. Somehow, he knew today was new to me and his very persona emanated warmth and welcome and pleasure. He was delighted to see me!
He quickly ushered me to my desk and showed me the pencil sharpener and the class pet and the place to set my backpack. And he handed me a freshly sharpened pencil and asked me to write my name on a placard for my desk.
I am not precisely sure what went through my head that day. I don’t recall my train of thought. But that day, the day I was greeted by Mr. Lacey, I gave myself a new name. No longer would I use the childish nickname I had been known by all my life. Here I would remake myself, and no one here in this classroom would know the difference. Here I would embrace the new, become the new, and new would no longer scare me. I marked that placard brightly and clearly for all to see — here in this land of unfamiliar, Mr. Lacey’s welcome gave me the courage to bridge the unknown and to begin what would become the rest of my life.