There is a time to break down and a time to build up.
To be a first grader ridiculed for your speech impediment in front of your classmates, by your own teacher? That was me broken down. I still remember their laughter and the way that all I wanted to do was hide.
But sometimes the help of another woman can build you back up again. My substitute teacher Mrs. Humphries taught me not to take the teasing lying down. She taught me to stand up. To speak up. She was our class substitute, so I only saw her now and then, but every time she used those teaching moments to build me up. She leaned into my life, and proved that showing faith in a little girl can go a long way.
When I was 16 years old, I learned that I had a malignant ovarian teratoma. Because of the football sized tumor, my left ovary was removed and I began an aggressive chemotherapy treatment. Mrs. Humphries visited me at home and wrote me letters of encouragement, still building me up. During this same time, Mrs. Humphries was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent radiation. We continued to exchange letters with a greater understanding of each other than ever before. I believe that part of leaning in is acknowledging the contributions that others give to your life. Mrs. Humphries passed away from her breast cancer, but before she died I made sure that she knew everything she gave me and the ways she built me up. If she were here today she would be excited to know that, despite my prognosis of not being able to have children, I have a healthy daughter.
Mrs. Humphries has never left my mind. Today I am a human resources professional working for the same school district where I attended school with her. It is now my honor to hire substitute teachers. This position is not the highest on the hierarchy, yet it is the most treasured position I have in my professional life. For me, leaning in is about hiring teachers who will empower and enrich the lives of students. It means finding the Mrs. Humphries of the world who will build students up.
I think of Mrs. Humphries every time I hire a substitute teacher. I am in more than just the business of human capital. I am in the business of restoring hope. Every day, it's my hope that I can connect children with a teacher who helps them realize their full potential. Someone like Mrs. Humphries.