I remember my very first day of Kindergarten. We were standing in a circle and Mrs. Howell was handing out name tag necklaces; laminated ducks on pieces of yarn. By mistake, she gave me one that said “Melanie” — I was so shy, I didn’t correct her and the real Melanie didn’t notice until the “Tara” duck came up and Mrs. Howell, with a smile and apology, realized her error.
I didn’t stay that shy for too long. I loved school so much I had to be persuaded to stay home when I was sick, but I hated math and was terrible at it. I loved to read and write, and Mrs. Howell realized that early on and encouraged it. I remember asking her one day, confused, why a picture book had no words in it — she told me it was because I was meant to write my own story. I did, and I never stopped.
I was lucky to have Mrs. Howell for three years, since she moved up to Grade 1 and Grade 2 the same years I did. She still remembers that I used to bring the Evening Telegram to school for silent reading (how nerdy!) and she was the original person to put the idea of being a journalist in my head and heart. In those days we had to practice cursive writing, but she was always less concerned with the shape of the letters than the words on the page. She was full of praise and smiles and hugs and encouragement for all of us in the class. We loved her.
What Mrs. Howell gave me, I never lost. I went to journalism school and I have the job I dreamed of since I was in Grade 1: I’ve been a Telegram reporter for the past 12 years and love it every single day. My parents kept every one of my elementary school journals, where we used to have to write something and the teacher would reply with a comment.
“I like writing stories,” says one entry from 1984. “When I grow up I will be a writer.”
“Yes, you do,” is written in Mrs. Howell’s handwriting underneath, “and I bet you will.”
Thank-you, Mrs. Howell!