Almost anyone’s list of “People Who Have Influenced My Life” includes at least one teacher. What kind of teachers are these?—The kind who use their talents to help develop their students’ talents, the kind who strive to shape not just the mind but the heart. For me, it was a teacher we students came to affectionately call Auntie Marina.
At the time, my family was living in Japan, where my parents were involved in administrative work for our international Christian fellowship. Auntie Marina was my first- and second-grade teacher.
She was level headed and stricter than most of our other teachers and caretakers, firm in her sense of right and wrong, and at first we kids grumbled about that. Before long, however, we learned to trust her because we sensed that she cared about what kind of people we would become. We felt secure with Auntie Marina because she clearly defined our boundaries.
While she set limits and enforced the rules, she demonstrated equal amounts of positiveness and love, and she also had an appropriate sense of fun. School with her wasn’t limited to worksheets and textbooks. She took us on excursions and trips to the park, and used her artistic talent in order to get us interested in arts and crafts. One day we children asked, “Can we have coffee like you and the other adults?” and the next day for snack we were delighted when she served us “kid coffee”—milk that she had turned coffee color with molasses.
She also had a knack for making each of us feel special, and one way she did this was by speaking positively about us to others, often even when we were within earshot. I can still recall the pride I felt upon overhearing her tell another teacher how well I was doing in spelling. It was satisfying to know that my efforts had not gone unnoticed.
Auntie Marina’s care and love extended beyond the school years. For quite some time after our family moved to Taiwan, she sent me notes and cards. Ten years later, I still have several of them. When I reread one of those notes recently, I marveled at the concern and interest she had shown in corresponding with an eight-year-old: “Yesterday I came across your picture as I was preparing a photo album of ‘the children in my life’—those I’ve cared for and taught over the years—and I was reminded of how much I love you, my dear young friend.”
On my ninth birthday she wrote: “A very happy birthday to you. I pray that it will be a wonderful, special day for you, and a great new year of your life, full of good surprises and love-filled experiences. I’m happy to know you!”
On June 9, 2005, after a prolonged struggle with cancer, Auntie Marina passed on to Heaven. I know I am only one of many who are better for having experienced her love, which she always reminded us was God’s love poured through her.