The letter was dated Sept. 1, 1971. It was a welcome note from my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Knobloch, at Woodchuck School in Wales, and was written on Snoopy letterhead. As it turned out, she would be my kindergarten teacher for not just one, but two back-to-back school years.
I was the runt of the litter, the last of eight children and, as I think back, definitely did not epitomize good health or academic promise. For some reason, Mrs. Knobloch was able to see beyond what was standing before her and, beginning that September, I was given a guardian angel who was masquerading as a kindergarten teacher.
She would have that difficult, yet necessary, conversation with my parents, letting them know I should repeat kindergarten. She told me that she needed my help with next year’s less-experienced students. Never a failure who didn’t meet basic expectations, I was a valued member of Team Knobloch. Those two years alone would have earned her a place of high respect, as I would grow from barely a toddler into a grown man. Guardian angels, though, usually don’t hang around for one or two years; they tend to stay with you.
When my mom got sick and I struggled academically, it was Mrs. Knobloch who hired me to help her unpack her room for the next year’s class. She also hired me to come to her house and rake around her trees and do odd jobs around her house. She was also the teacher who, even after retiring, made it a point to come to my mom’s wake when I was in eighth grade and wrote me yet another note, sharing her grief and reminding me I was capable of achieving and making my mom proud. Little did she know – or perhaps it was part of a master plan hatched by her and my mom – that she would become a major inspiration in my life.
When I graduated from high school, there was a note from Mrs. Knobloch. As I got married and invited her to my wedding reception, a note of congratulations arrived. When my daughter was born and I proudly had Christmas cards printed, emblazoned with my newborn’s picture, Mrs. Knobloch was at the top of the list to receive a card. She would reciprocate, always harkening back to the day when a gangly, sickly kid walked into her classroom and found an instant advocate.
As I entered the education profession and became a kindergarten teacher, there was a sense of urgency to have the same impact upon students and their families that Mrs. Knobloch had on my family and me. As a teacher and an elementary principal, I, too, wrote a handwritten letter to all of my students, welcoming them to an exciting new year and asking for their help in making our class and school a success.
As an administrator in the field of special education, I was reminded that the greatest success stories were with students who had adults in their lives who really got to know them and were always there for encouragement and support; always focusing on the promise each child brought to the collective table of life and using that promise as a springboard for success.
I know one of the rules we learned on the first day of school as kindergartners was not to budge in line and to wait your turn. But I think the good Lord should make an exception and let Mrs. Knobloch be the line leader and walk into heaven first. She’s earned it!