Living the Dream: Importance of Teachers

One of the things I have found to be important in living my dream is the teachers I have had along the way.  I don’t mind sounding like a nerd when I say I LOVED school.  I loved being around my friends, but I also absolutely LOVED learning, and I was so extremely fortunate to have some wonderful teachers along the way.  Let me tell you about some of them!

Fifth Grade–Charlotte Young

Most of the students said “I hate Mrs. Young,” probably because Mrs. Young wanted us to do WELL and enjoy school.  And I probably didn’t admit it at the time, but in retrospect, Mrs. Young is the first who made a difference in my life.  You see, I was ALWAYS a very mischievous, show-off kind of girl.  I was fairly bright (okay, forget modesty, the truth be told, I was a freakin’ genius, tested years later at a genius I.Q. of 142) and I got bored easily.  I always ended up in trouble because I was doing things like dancing on the tables in second grade.  I got a spanking EVERY DAY OF SCHOOL until the fifth grade—when I had Mrs. Young.  So how did Mrs. Young make a difference in my life?  SHE RECOGNIZED THAT I NEEDED TO ENTERTAIN.  If I could just spend some time openly “showing off,” then I could concentrate and behave the rest of the day.  So as a reward to the other students IF THEY KEPT THEIR HEADS DOWN DURING REST PERIOD, Mrs. Young would let me perform some silly skit at the front of the room.  That morphed into other students sharing their own “talents”—some of them formed singing groups (girl groups were oh-so popular and most sang the Supreme’s “You Can’t Hurry Love”), some of the guys brought in their guitars and played and sang (often “Your Cheatin’ Heart”).  After all, we were in The South and Hank Williams and Marty Robbins were HUGE in our worlds.  Mrs. Young encouraged us to perform.   She was the first of my teachers who opened the door to my future.

High School English Teachers:  Paulette Hart/Jackie Johnson/Elaine Johnson

I sometimes think I was born reading because I literally do not remember a time when I couldn’t read.  Even in the first grade, Dick and Jane bored me out of my mind, and I soaked up the Weekly Readers like nobody’s business.  But my English teachers—Mrs. Hart and the two Mrs. Johnsons—threw wide open the doors to my creativity.  They encouraged me to express myself, to write whatever I felt—and I wrote constantly:  poetry, journaling, writing letters to friends, just writing and writing.  It was the way I worked through much of the pain of my childhood.  Writing is still something that gets me through difficult times, as well as something I enjoy doing when I’m celebrating.

Business Teachers:  Mary Evelyn Rogers/Janelle Powell

nissanmtgMs. Rogers and Mrs. Powell gave me the skills to make a living and support my family for many years.  They taught me office etiquette, tolerated my innate silliness, and dictated shorthand drills until I was a stand-out student.  Even years later in my work at Nissan, other than an interpreter, I was the ONLY woman allowed to attend the highest level of production meetings when planning the launch of an automobile.  You see, big auto companies are ever-aware of corporate espionage, and these were highly confidential meetings attended by only presidents of Nissan companies.  My shorthand skills didn’t only get me in the door, they earned me tremendous respect from our Japanese advisors.  (See the bottom of this post for a funny story.) Being a good secretary was NOT the life of my dreams, but it allowed me to support my family.  For that I am forever grateful.

High School Speech/Acting Teacher and Advisor:  Brenda Dozier Boyte/Joyce Mayo

These two teachers have no idea how important they were to me during my high school years.  I won’t go into a lot of detail, but I had a very difficult teen life.  My very good friend Ramona was killed in a car wreck, and other traumatic and painful events happened.  I was one messed-up kid, and the light in my world was what was given to me by these two teachers.  Mrs. Mayo taught me that I could be anything I wanted, and she celebrated my penchant for comedy, encouraging me to be many characters on stage, and the laughter from my fellow students fed my soul.  Ms. Dozier Boyte gave me a sense of value.  You see, as a Senior Class Advisor, she was directing the play, and asked me if I would audition for it because she could easily see me as Lucy Van Pelt.  I hadn’t even given thought to auditioning because we lived all the way across the county, both my parents worked really hard, and rehearsals were weeknights.  I couldn’t even imagine that I would have transportation to and from the rehearsals, but between my Daddy dragging his tired body across the county at night and going home with Ms. Dozier Boyte after school so I could attend rehearsals, it happened.  It was the happiest period of my high school years, and the time when I felt just a little glimmer of what would drive me to Hollywood some 4 decades later.

Adult Coaches Karen Bowden/Jessica Johnson/Brenda Adelman/Chambers Stevens and more

These are coaches for whom I have great respect.  They encourage, teach, instruct, cajole, support, laugh at and with, mentor, and pour their hearts and soul into developing their students’ skills and abilities.  They celebrate their students’ successes, help me find pockets of life I had squelched or forgotten, and bring out things in my life that need closer scrutiny.

As I ruminate about all the teachers and coaches and mentors who have helped me in further developing my talent, I am amazed and grateful for every moment with each of them.  I think it takes a Team to support a dream chase, an entire battalion of people who have believed in my courage and talent and tenacity.  I LOVE living the dream, savoring each accomplishment, learning from each disappointment.  Each of you has a piece of my heart.

Thanks for being here. And as I always say…



FUNNY STORY:  The first time I attended a very high-level production meeting to take notes, the Japanese advisors were wary.  There I sat, with several steno pads, different color pens stuck between each finger (anytime we changed subjects ( i.e., VG30 engine, transmission, suspension, etc.), I dropped one pen and began taking notes with a different color), and several highlighters (each time a commitment was made by a subsidiary (i.e., Nissan NRD committed to white body salt testing, NTC committed to drive-train testing), I would circle that commitment with a highlighter).  You see, these commitments were being made by President-level employees a good five years before their company would actually perform the testing to which they had committed.  Often what happened was that they failed to budget for their commitment and we ended up with a mess when it came time for them to complete their testing.  Since I was the ONLY Nissan employee who was proficient in shorthand, I attended these meetings to record the “minutes.”  At the first meeting, just before lunch break, Mr. Morakami stood and made a statement to Nissan Smyrna that began with “I have 6 things to say about VG30 engine.”  I diligently recorded his statement—verbatim.  That evening, as the meeting was ending and the attendees were going to dinner, Mr. Morakami approached me and said, “I make a mistake.”  I asked what mistake he might have made, and he told me, “VG 30 engine.”  So I flipped through pages and pages and pages until I found it, and I read his statement, all six items.  Afterward, ready to correct his statement, pen in hand, I asked, “what is mistake?”  He grinned and said, “is no mistake.”  I smiled.  “Mr. Morakami,” I chided, “You test me.”  He acknowledged that he had, indeed, tested me, and then he said, “You pass-pass.  (this means “passed with flying colors”) You do best job at Smyrna.”  The Japanese advisors never again tested my skills or abilities, I had won their confidence for years to come.  And that was because of my shorthand teachers. 

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