All through my years as a student in public education there was one teacher who had the most powerful impact on my life. It was my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Hogan. On August 5th, Mrs. Hogan passed away at the age of 88. The legacy she leaves behind is one of incredible inspiration, kindness, and grace. As a teacher, she was definitely a master of the subjects she taught. She obviously took the time to craft her lessons, making sure to include fun activities that grabbed our attention and kept it! However, the impact Mrs. Hogan had on my life stretches far beyond academics. Quite simply, Mrs. Hogan made me feel important and loved. She constantly encouraged and inspired me to be better and to let my good qualities shine. That wasn’t something that came naturally for me, but she made me feel like it was possible.
I make it no secret that I did not always enjoy school. But I absolutely loved 3rd grade! I can still remember the tadpoles we watched turn into frogs and the pet bird that she brought to the classroom. Her read alouds were epic and I was always tuned in. I recall one time where Mrs. Hogan was reading to the class and she really got into character. She was so animated with her reading that she had to pause to make sure that the principal wasn’t coming to investigate the ruckus. Like everything she did, we ate it up! At the end of the year, Mrs. Hogan had each of us make a book of our best 3rd grade writing. The book gave us a chance to showcase our work, but I think the real purpose was to provide our parents with a keepsake. Wouldn’t you know it, that book became a keepsake for me instead (sorry Mom and Dad). Now that I am a 3rd grade teacher, I keep that special book in my classroom. My students love to read my writing from the time when I was their age. I love to read the written feedback that Mrs. Hogan left for me 30 years ago. That book is just one reminder of the special year I shared with her and the impact that she had on my life.
Two years ago I was back in my hometown in New Jersey, visiting many of the places that shaped my childhood. I tend to be sentimental, so taking it all in was a powerful experience. But the most powerful of them all was visiting Mrs. Hogan in the nursing home. It had been almost 30 years since I was one of her 3rd graders, but she remembered exactly who I was. We shared some great memories and unforgettable stories. As I pushed her around in her wheel chair, I told her about the incredible impact she had on my life. I also told her that I was now a 3rd grade teacher, trying to give my students the same blessings that she had given to me. My sister was with me during that visit because she too was one of Mrs. Hogan’s 3rd graders back in the 80’s. And believe it or not, my sister is also a 3rd grade teacher. So there we sat, three 3rd grade teachers. We reveled in the memories of one classroom with a beautiful history, while celebrating two classrooms attempting to carry on that legacy. On one hand, I felt proud to talk about my role as a teacher. On the other hand, I felt like a happy little kid whose teacher loved him.
Driving away from that nursing home, my heart was so full. My whole family was in the car, and my mom decided to share one more story about Mrs. Hogan. It turns out, that the year after I had Mrs. Hogan; my 4th grade teachers wanted to put me on medicine. As any good parent does, my mom sought the advice from the teacher where I had found success. Mrs. Hogan’s response was simple and firm. She told my mom, “Don’t you dare let anyone put my Colin on meds!” That settled it. Period. I can’t believe how much this wonderful lady actually cared about me. She didn’t just know my reading ability or math skills. She knew me. And she loved me. I’ll never forget how she called her class “Hogan’s Heroes.” And that is certainly the way she made her students feel. We all felt like heroes. Ironically, it was Mrs. Hogan who was the hero all along. Thank you Mrs. Hogan. May you rest in peace knowing that you made many lives better, especially mine. May we all be so lucky to have a teacher like Mrs. Hogan.