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‘I love you more than my momma.’ That phrase changed a Columbus teacher’s career.

Most teachers could fill the pages of a Reader’s Digest edition with stories about their students.

They might not be able to remember the name of every student they’ve ever taught, but there is certainly a handful of kids who are forever etched in their memories. And teachers are not a bit shy to share the momentous moments that have shaped their careers and keep them coming back to the classroom every year.

Because, well, what happens in a classroom is simply magical. Lives change. Hearts soften. Minds open.

So it happened for Andrea Reese.

Mrs. Reese is beginning her 15th year as an elementary teacher. Most would call her a veteran, for sure, but at one time, she wasn’t. At one time, she was scared and hopeless, lost and insecure. Like all teachers do early in their careers, she even wondered, “What have I gotten myself into?” But then, something happens to make teachers stick around. Something spectacular occurs that silences the sirens wooing them towards Aflac or TSYS or any ‘ol local insurance agency.

I’ll call Mrs. Reese’s “something spectacular” Abigail.

Back in 2004, during Andrea’s rookie year, she was teaching little 5-year-olds at Downtown Elementary School. Tiny Abigail entered Mrs. Reese’s classroom carrying a load of desperation and hopelessness. Like so many children today, Abigail was weary — utterly drained from responsibilities and circumstances that had nothing to do with Mrs. Reese’s kindergarten class. Ultimately, the little girl bent. She cracked under the pressure and began to get in trouble.

In the midst of her struggle, though, little Abigail maintained her innocence. As Mrs. Reese remembers it, despite the misbehaviors and redirections, Abigail looked up at her one day and confessed, “I love you more than my mom.” Take that in for a second. Think about the implications of that statement. Create a movie in your mind of this little girl’s future, and imagine that future without a Mrs. Reese or a teacher like her.

It is foolish to discount the impact of a teacher and quite ignorant to ignore the impression made by one.

A junior in high school just as well as a 5-year-old kindergartner can recognize the nurturing spirit of a teacher and run to it. They cling to it with white knuckles and never look back because they are desperate to survive. That’s exactly what Abigail did — held on for dear life.

When Mrs. Reese asked Abigail to explain her love, the child’s innocence responded, “Because you care what I do and you make sure I get fed.” See, when Abigail got home from school, there was no mom or dad. No snacks. Sometimes no food at all. Often times there was no electricity, no lights, no afternoon cartoons, no music playing. Just a big brother who could never fill the void left by a missing parent.

Can you blame her? Can you fault Abigail’s instincts for survival? Replacing momma and filling the chasm with a kind teacher who redirected her misbehavior because she cared and who insured she had a full belly and a full heart?

Mrs. Reese cried that day. Not in front of Abigail or the rest of her students. She saved the tears for her ride home, and in the solitude of her commute, she experienced a much-needed, tearful epiphany. Abigail was Andrea’s “something spectacular” that clarified her life’s mission. For the next 29 years, she would be the only hope for some of her students. She would nourish their bodies, souls, and minds as their dietician and pastor, momma and doctor, counselor and coach.

She would be their teacher.

It’s a mighty role to play and a heavy weight to bear. So, please find a teacher and undergird him or her with your love and support. (If you can’t find one, check out the Dollar Store. They’ll be there stocking up for the new school year.) Tell them you appreciate the role they’re playing, the weight they’re lifting. Perhaps you could be just the “something spectacular” they need today.

Sheryl Green is a secondary educator in Columbus. Email her at