My Sister — My First Teacher

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I was told it started after my birth. The almost decade that separates us made all the difference to a nine year old who already had one older and younger brother and one younger sister. The age difference wasn’t vast enough for her to take on the same role with them that she did with me.

I was her real-life baby doll. Because of her, I was walking at nine months and potty-trained at twelve months. She knew at an early age she wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. Naturally, I became her first student. She cared for most of my needs, I’m told. She carried me on her hip as if she were my Mother. Actually, we called our mom, ‘Mother’ but I called her, ‘Momma’.

Yes, my oldest sister Janet was my second mom and my most memorable teacher. Her classroom was our home. She taught me to read and write by age three. I was fascinated by the comics, so she used them as her textbook, initially. She noticed I would ‘read the pictures’ and make up stories about what I saw. My first teacher found an apt pupil in me and did not look back.

I remember her going off to college to become a ‘real’ teacher. Our parents could not afford to send her to a four year university straightaway; therefore, she attended a community college in a nearby town. All requirements were completed to graduate but because of racial prejudices, there was a ‘mix-up’ with her grades and she was not permitted to graduate with her class. She would have been the first African-American to have done so at this community college and that was not going to happen. Mysteriously, this was cleared after the graduation ceremony had taken place and she received her Associate’s Degree.

There was no stopping, Janet. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Bethune-Cookman College (now University). To my delight, she would come home every weekend. I was still her student. She made sure I was reading everything I could put my hands on. I remember wanting to read Rosemary’s Baby but she would not permit it. I have not read it to this day. She said it was inappropriate at my age, around 12, and I took her word for it.

My sister, my teacher was an adult now and ventured out into the world to make a difference. Her first job was as a Reading teacher at the Middle School our youngest sister attended. Watch out world! She has a classroom! Janet was (and still is) tough and demanded so much from her students. She was on that job but one year before some beau swept her off her feet.

They married and she relocated to Savannah, Georgia. There, she continued working as a teacher. She became a real mom and the family soon relocated to South Florida. Her marriage ended in divorce and my sister, my teacher found herself a single parent.

She enrolled at university again and received a Master’s degree in Guidance and Counseling. She worked full-time as a teacher in Broward County Schools as she worked on her Masters. Her son was sent to private school during the day and in daycare in the ghetto after school. There were many times she would take him to the sitter’s in his pajamas and pick him up after classes at night, in those same pajamas. That family would get him off to school and to daycare, after school.

Janet became a Guidance Counselor at Coral Springs High School. She is an outstanding educator. She was promoted to Dean of Students (Assistant Principal) at Piper High School because of her outstanding performance. The students loved her. The parents respected her. Disciplinary actions were accepted with a “thank you” from them to her, even if the students were being suspended. They knew she loved them, cared for them and was fair with them.

By the time she became a Principal, she had earned a Specialist in Administration and Supervision by attending evening and weekend classes. Her son left private school and attended high school where she was the Principal. Most of the students called her “Ma” just as he did. If there were gang related riots at school, they would come to her office to make sure she was safe.

Knowing her son would soon be going to college, she participated in the Florida Tuition Voucher Program to fund his education. Desiring to reach the academic summit of her profession, Janet earned a Doctorate in Education and my sister — my first teacher became H. Janet Ward, Ed.D.

Educators are not in education because of the rate of pay. So many like Janet, were born to be educators. It’s in their blood and they love it.

Dr. H. Janet Ward-McMillon has lived her life’s purpose for nearly 35 years. She will retire at the end of this school term. There have been many meetings to persuade her to participate in Florida’s Drop Program for another five years. She has refused. She has found another way to continue her calling as a teacher but on a spiritual level. She started a Prison Ministry for women and a Ministry at an Assisted Living Home for seniors. She’ll always be a teacher at heart. Her message will be different.

Janet has been the most influential teacher, outside of my parents, in my life. She taught me from the classroom at home as a child and from the classroom of life as a teenager and adult. She taught me reading, writing, arithmetic and what it means to persevere. As a single parent, employee, or student; she never complained or asked for help.

Dr. H. Janet Ward-McMillon is one distinguished educator who is appreciated and respected not only by her family but the thousands of lives she helped to shape as an educator over the past thirty-five years. We are proud to herald her as Educator of the Year for Life!

Copyright ©2007 by Avis Ward of AWard Consulting, LLC



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