I recieved the following email from the mother of a former student and feel that it is worth sharing. Sometimes in the classroom, you make choices that have a far reaching impact on your students that you may not realize at the time.
Deena Stephenson says, "Hi Ms. McDaniel!! Ryan recently wrote an essay for his language arts class where he talks about you being an inspiration for his Debating. Hope you are doing well. Thank you for being a great teacher when he needed one!". The essay is below.
by: Ryan Stephenson
it was the biggest moment of my life. It was the culmination of everything; Everything I had accomplished in the past four years; every late night I spent striving to finish my cases to perfection; every weekend spent at schools debating, when a normal kid should be at home watching TV; every class I missed for debate tournaments and every test I had to stay after school to make them up. It was the product of all my work. It was the finals round of the speech and debate Tournament of Champions tournament (TOC). Needless to say, it was also the day I was housing a miniature butterfly museum inside my stomach. The butterflies were so consuming, that I could hardly breathe fluently, my hands and legs were shaking and my brain was pounding against my skull. “Calm down you idiot!”, I told my nervous system, but to no avail. I set my black i-bought-this-to-make-me-look-smarter attache on the table, and with over two-hundred and fifty eyes staring at me and my opponent, the butterflies only multiplied. A pen can be a debater's most important tool in-round. In order to write down everything that your opponent is saying, you want your pen to write to your paper as smooth as possible. So when I reach into my bag, I make sure that the pens I pull out are brand new and full of ink. I opened the top of my bag to reveal the pen holders, tiny pockets and such that were stitched to the inside my bag. However, my hand did not reach for the new ones. I instead unzipped another pocket and pulled out two 5 year old, half empty pens. They were not full size pens, they were click-able mini-pens, and had a rubber grip on about a third of it. They were not the debater's choice pens, but They also were not just pens. They meant something to me, and even my butterfly museum could not stop me from thinking back to how and when I acquired them. Three years ago at the start of eight grade year, my mother told me, “if you are looking for an extra-curricular activity, I think you would be interested in the Speech and Debate team.” The subject had been brought up after telling her how my communication applications teacher, ms. McDaniel, had offered us to switch to the debate class if we were interested doing so. After some encouragement from my mother and McDaniel, I did. It was probably the most impacting decision I will come to make in my school days, though I would not realize it tell later. Although this was a debate class, everyone was interested in the acting events. I was the only actual Debater. So McDaniel made sure I was as ready as she could get me to be for our first tournament. About a week before it, McDaniel approached me individually, “i wanted to give you something special seeing as your the only debater” she said in an interested and quiet voice. She pulled out a small plastic wrapped pack of pens. “these are called flow pens”, she informed me, “they may only be pens, but ill have you know that these are the same type that high school debaters use.” In a strange way, it made me smile. They were just pens, but as I looked at them, they told me that I would have a future in this debate world, they told me that this was something that I would love doing, and they did not lie. This simple gift from Ms. McDaniel was what had gave me confidence to compete at my first tournament. If it were not for her, I would never have had the opportunity to immerse my self in the activity that I have grown to love. Without her I would never have met my family away from home in the Cy-Ridge Speech and Debate team. Without her I would never have gotten myself to this finals round at the TOC. So yes, I grabbed those three and a half inch pens from my bag. They told me that they would see me though this just as they had 5 years before. They stabbed each and everyone of those infernal and internal butterflies in my stomach, until I was ready for the tough round ahead of me. They had given me the confidence to win my very first tournament, and they would give me the confidence to win my very last one as well.