The Impact of an Educator with Muriel Summers

Author: Dustin Odham
July 28, 2021

The impact of an educator with Muriel Summers

Read this exclusive conversation with Muriel Summers. Learn more during the podcast interview on Change Starts Here. WATCH HERE

Dustin: I wrote down Miss Rose’s story three or four times in my notes that first day I met you, and I’d love to hear that story again.

Muriel Summers: Oh, I could hardly say her name without crying. I’ve told the story so many times, but I think it speaks to the power of an educator that truly loves children. I grew up in rural North Carolina, the granddaughter of a cotton farmer. Most of the children in our community were sons and daughters of farmers or mill workers, and so our futures outside of just staying in that community really weren’t there for us, unless we had parents who showed us something differently and, fortunately, for me, I had a mother who did that.

But Miss Rose also did that for us on a daily basis, through the lessons that she taught us and the places she said we could go one day. She made everything come alive for us, but she also believed in us. You know, I have story after story, but the one that’s the most compelling is when our class all came together to honor her at her passing. We realized in that moment that Miss Rose told everyone that we were her favorite student. She said, “Oh, Muriel, you’re my favorite student,” and then she would say to Johnny, “Johnny you’re my favorite student.” She would say to Vicki, “You’re my favorite student,” and none of us knew that she told the other that, but she made us all feel that we were.

You know, I realized then the incredible opportunity educators have to do one of two things: you can either leave your heart print on a child that will last a lifetime, or you can leave a scar an open wound that will never heal. And I had teachers that fell into those two camps.

One, Miss Rose, who made us all feel that anything was possible, and the daily messages that you were special, you were loved, you were destined to do great things with your life, still remain on the hearts of all the students she taught.

And then others who said, “I can’t see you amounting to too much” or “Why can’t you get this?” or “What’s wrong with you?” or “Why can’t you learn this?”

I had a counselor who did not feel that I would be college-bound at that point in time in my life, and when I told her that I had gotten into UNC Chapel Hill, her response to me was, “You? There must be some mistake.”

And all these years later, those words still bring tears to my eyes.

And, you know, it’s an open wound that has never ever healed. But how grateful I am to the teacher that made that comment to me.

Because I was out to prove her wrong and still am out to prove her wrong, but I also said if I was ever in a position of leadership in a school, I would make sure that I would never have anyone on a staff that would ever, ever say anything to a child that would leave a scar like that.

And I can say I have surrounded myself with the most amazing teachers who were far better teachers than I ever was. They leave daily heart prints. All you have to do is call up our students, and they’ll tell you about the amazing teachers. So, I was shaped very much by having Miss Rose as my teacher, but I was also shaped very much by having a counselor that didn’t believe in me.

I hope that long after I’m gone, there will be a child that will say, “Muriel Thomas Summers made a difference in my life.” Because when that can happen long after your passing, you’re living on through the lives of the people that you’ve touched.

And that’s the great gift of being a teacher, that you will live on in the lives of the children you’ve taught, if you’ve done a good job. That should be all of our goals: to have people say that one day about us.


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