Many people decide to become a teacher due to the influence of a person. That wasn't the case with me.  I remember the moment I decided what kind of a teacher I wanted to be.  I watched the film Cipher In The Snow when I went to a seminar at my university sponsored by the education department. The film is based on a  true story written by Jean Mizer entitled Cipher in the Snow.  This is the story that inspired me to be the best teacher I could be.

The story is about an ostracized teenager named Cliff. Following his parents' divorce, Cliff becomes withdrawn and has no friends. He literally becomes a "cipher". 

The film begins with a tragedy on a snowy February morning. A teacher was driving behind a school bus when the bus suddenly veered off the road at a hotel. A boy stumbles out of the bus and falls over in the snow. The teacher jumps out of his car to help but the boy is dead. The bus driver tells the teacher that the boy never complained about feeling bad. Instead, he apologized to the driver and asked to be let out of the bus at the hotel. The driver and teacher are shocked that the boy is dead.

Back at the school, the teacher informs the Principal of the boy's death. The Principal asks him to notify the boy's parents and write his obituary for the school paper. The teacher learns that he was the boy's favorite teacher which shocks him because he hardly knew him.

At the boy's home, his mother tells the teacher that the boy never said a word about feeling bad. The stepfather tells the teacher that the boy had never spoken to him since he moved in. The teacher learns that the stepfather had made the boy's life miserable.

The teacher goes back to school to try to learn more about the boy. from his records In the boy's records, the teacher reads "slow learner, won't talk, uncooperative.." written by his third grade teacher but his IQ score reads 106. The score dropped below 100 after seventh grade. He tries to find ten teachers or students to attend the funeral that knew the boy, but no one even knew him well enough to go.

The teacher sits and ponders how many times the boy had been chosen last?  Even timid children are resilient. It takes time to break them. How many times had the boy been told "You are a nothing!" It dawns on the teacher that when there was finally nothing left at all for the boy, he collapsed on a snow bank and went away. The teacher resolves never to let this happen to any student of his.

I had already made the decision to become an elementary school teacher when I watched the movie. What changed for me after watching the film was what Kind of teacher I wanted to be. Seeing the boy literally die of loneliness,  I decided that I wanted to be a teacher that took an interest in ALL children, especially those that few people cared about. I have never forgotten Cliff in my thirty-four years of education. Each year, I have welcomed every new class with the silent promise that I would do everything I could to make a positive difference in each child's life. These little folks spend more time with me than they do with their own parents during the week. I owe it to them to make learning fun and show them that I genuinely care about them.

On Thursday, another school year will end. My students will move on but each will still have a special place in my heart. For some reason, the ceiling leaks in my classroom on the last day of school EVERY year. Well, that's my explanation for my wet cheeks....and I am sticking to it!


  1. Shell // May 25, 2010 at 10:41 PM  

    You are a very special teacher and a sweet lady! :)

  2. Debbie // May 25, 2010 at 10:44 PM  

    Pam I love this story, I really do. How touching to know how much it touched you to do what you love. Thanks for sharing Pam....hope you enjoyed the weekend in Charlotte.

  3. Oka // May 25, 2010 at 10:44 PM  

    Would be great if more teachers felt this way about ALL their students. I hate to hear when a child is labeled and pushed aside or lost int he system.

  4. Anonymous // May 25, 2010 at 11:16 PM  

    What an inspirational and sad story! So glad it helped you become a better teacher. I teach first grade and I will miss my little scholars very much after next Thursday. And I will turn my attention to becoming a better teacher yet again, for only my 5th year in this, what I believe to be a noble profession. Hat's off to you, for being, what I'm sure is a great role model for so many of us walking behind you in your footsteps!

  5. redgirl // May 25, 2010 at 11:31 PM  

    This is such a great story of why you became a teacher!

  6. Ms. Anthropy // May 25, 2010 at 11:57 PM  

    Very touching!

  7. Sienna // May 26, 2010 at 12:04 AM  

    that brought tears to my eyes... thank you that is a beautiful story. We all need reminders, to keep us positive, even with the hardest students!

  8. jayayceeblog // May 26, 2010 at 12:04 AM  

    That is a powerful story. Makes me feel a little sick to my stomach. Poor Cliff. And it's a great reason to be the kind of teacher you are. Every teacher should have to read this story several times throughout the school year. Wow. Thanks for sharing!

  9. RawknRobynsGoneBlogWild // May 26, 2010 at 12:06 AM  

    That's a very sad story but a wonderful one for you to carry throughout your years as a teacher. Without a doubt, the teachers in my past who cared about me meant (and still mean) so much.
    Enjoy the end of the year, leaky ceilings and all.

  10. Cheeseboy // May 26, 2010 at 12:36 AM  

    Ha ha! This is really inspiring but it me laugh! I will tell you why...

    When I was a kid, age about 7, I was in church and they showed that movie in my Sunday School class. I was so drawn in by it. I felt so sorry for the boy and when he died I was totally and completely freaked out. I remember crying in my mom's arms when she picked me up.

    A year later, they were going to show the same show in Sunday School again (I believe it was filmed here in Utah again) and I completely freaked and ran out of Sunday School in tears.

    100% true story.

    I have, however, watched that movie in adulthood and it is so touching and powerful. I can see why it would make you want to become a teacher.

    As for me, I became a teacher for the HUGE paycheck.

  11. Marlene // May 26, 2010 at 12:51 AM  

    *sigh* I really wish you had been my teacher when I was younger. Oh, don't get me wrong - I had a few really good ones....and I remember them well. Good teachers are like gold, especially to kids with "issues" at home.

  12. Kelly // May 26, 2010 at 8:11 AM  

    Aww that is SO sweet! Really moving, now I'm going to have to check the movie out.

  13. Phyllis // May 26, 2010 at 9:15 AM  

    You have some very lucky students to have you as a teacher.

  14. Aging Mommy // May 26, 2010 at 10:04 AM  

    It is my daughter's last day of her very first year of preschool today and I think the roof of my car is leaking :-)

    What a lovely post today - enjoy this last day of this school year and I hope that leaking ceiling does not completely collapse!

  15. Robin // May 26, 2010 at 11:21 AM  

    Thanks for sharing your story. I wish every teacher really understood how much impact that they could have on a child's life. Some have a terrible impact, some are vanilla, and some teachers change a student's life for the better... They make that child see life in a new and much better way and it makes all the difference for them. I had a few outstanding teachers. Most were vanilla. It was a harm, no foul situation. They taught me the subject matter and I learned it, but they didn't make me a better person. However, there were a few who did BOTH. And they are the ones that I will remember forever! It is good that you can see that and have decided to be someone that they will remember forever:-)

  16. Theresa Milstein // May 26, 2010 at 1:57 PM  

    What a touching post. The best teachers, like you, don't forget the quiet ones. It's easy to focus on the "good" ones or the ones who act out, but it's the others we must not forget.

  17. mbkatc230 // May 26, 2010 at 9:58 PM  

    What a wonderful post. We were privileged to witness an outstanding teacher in action last night. We attended the spring concert for the middle school where our daughter is student teaching. The head director made such an incredible impression on my husband and I. The connection he had with those kids was just palpable, and he broke down in tears more than once during the program. I guess the PAC there leaks too :) Bless teachers, they can make such an incredible difference in a child's life. Thank you for posting this. Kathy

  18. Cheryl D. // May 26, 2010 at 10:08 PM  

    Visiting from Jenny Matlock's site! Great post!

  19. GardenofDaisies // May 26, 2010 at 11:17 PM  

    Aw, you are such a wonderful teacher!!! And your students are lucky kids!!! The story about Cliff is just awful!! It brought tears to my eyes to think that this poor child went through all those years without anyone caring about him.

  20. Leslie, the Home Maker // May 26, 2010 at 11:33 PM  

    You know what? As you were describing the story, I vaguely remember this movie? I think. I remember crying.
    I am a teacher, too.
    Of my daughters, here at home.
    I must watch the movie again if I can find it with them to remind them/us to be kind to everyone.
    The ceiling in my basement is leaking after you told this story :)

  21. Kathy // May 26, 2010 at 11:34 PM  

    God bless you for your efforts in the classroom. I can feel your passion for your students when I read your blog posts. I felt the same way. Have a restful summer! Kathy

  22. My name is PJ. // May 27, 2010 at 4:42 AM  

    I enjoyed reading this so much that I sent it to my daughter who is also an elementary school teacher.

  23. JDaniel4's Mom // May 27, 2010 at 6:04 AM  

    I love that the roof of your classroom leaks. Sometimes mine leaked from joy and sometimes from knowing they were moving on.

    Your students are very blessed.

  24. Cheryl // May 27, 2010 at 9:13 AM  

    Powerful post. I'm glad your ceiling cries.

  25. Bossy Betty // May 27, 2010 at 10:33 AM  

    I got shivers just reading this! Beautiful post! (Happy Summer to you too....)

  26. Barbra Stephens // May 28, 2010 at 12:20 AM  

    It brings me back, too.....thinking about why I became a teacher.
    I knew you would have a touching story like this.....
    A reason like-'kids are so cute' just doesn't seem to hold a teacher going into the field with her whole heart.
    Thanks for sharing!

  27. criticalcrass // May 28, 2010 at 1:02 PM  

    this made me cry. i was a lot like cliff as a child. a lot like him, except my family loved me and treated me well. but my peers and even some of my teachers...not so much.

    when i was younger, and people asked me what i wanted to be when i grew up, i would say teacher and waitress because teaching didn't pay very well, and i wanted to have lots of money.

    i go back and forth with this, this wanting to teach. i'll think i can do it, and then i'll know i can't. and when i know i can't, i'll give up on it. and then almost immediately, i'll see something that will remind me why i wanted to and the war will begin again.

    i gave up yesterday. and today, i found this. and this, this is exactly why i wanted to be a teacher.

  28. Life Is A SandCastle // May 29, 2010 at 5:52 PM  

    Your so thoughtful and love the explaination of your wet cheeks

  29. Helena // May 29, 2010 at 8:33 PM  

    I saw that movie! It was so incredibly sad. I'm such a cynic and wondered if it was true. But since then I've heard even sadder stories and my heart aches for humanity sometimes. Thanks for all you do!

  30. Mrs.B // June 1, 2010 at 1:14 PM  

    I have not seen the movie but think it is one worth checking out! I made the decision to become a teacher so that I can make a difference in every child's life every day! Of course, figuring out how I will impact each one of them every day - I haven't figured that one out yet! I strive to be the very best teacher in the world to my students and I can't wait to get started. I will graduate from school next year and I can't wait to make a difference. I have been substituting for the last few months and there have been many times that I have connected with a student and developed a stronger relationship with them in one day then their teacher has been able to do all year! Too many teachers are just going through the motions and have become teaching robots. I look forward to reading your posts to continue to find ways to positively impact my kids and become a terrific teacher.

  31. Teachinfourth // June 6, 2010 at 5:55 PM  

    What a great reason to become a teacher. I remember watching that movie years ago and thinking how sad it was.

    I never thought about it in that sense, but another reason I became a teacher was to be the teacher to others that I always wanted to have…

    Keep up the good work!

  32. Roban // June 25, 2010 at 5:35 PM  

    You are an amazing teacher.... I've been absent from blogging since March, but you had commented way back then, and I wanted to come back for a visit. I could spend hours reading your posts.... and probably will soon.

    I know how you feel about the last day of school. I always feel sadness watching my 8th-graders leave on that last day each year.

    On your note, you mentioned having a daughter.... I'm going to read Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter's book "Traveling With Pomegranates." Have you read it by chance?