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Valentine To My Most Unforgettable Teacher: Mr. Canfield

Updated on July 22, 2014

A Run-In With Destiny

Everyone has an unforgettable teacher. Mine was Mr. Canfield at P.S. #26 in Paterson, NJ. On the last day of fourth grade, I literally bumped into his belt line while running down the hallway. I remember keeping my eyes lowered, afraid to look up because I knew that there was only one person this tall in the whole building- Mr. Canfield, the strictest, meanest teacher at P.S 26, and the one who was going to be my 5th grade teacher in the fall.

"Hey kid, pay attention to where you're going!" His booming voice sent tremors through my body as he glared down at me, waiting for an apology.

"Sorry, Sir." I mumbled, feeling the color rise to my cheeks.

"And stop running. If this wasn't the last day of school I'd have you marching up and down the hallway till you learned to walk properly." It was no idle threat. He was infamous for making his students march up and down the halls until they could march single file in perfect silence. He was equally infamous for breaking wooden pointers over desks if the students weren't paying attention to the lesson. (Teachers weren't allowed to administer corporal punishment but just the thought of that cracking pointer was enough to make me flinch).

It was also rumored that Mr. Canfield rarely gave out "A's" and I was afraid he'd ruin my straight "A" academic record. (Yeah, I'll admit it, I was a brainy, nerdy kid. A pathetic good child who strove to be the teacher's pet- and I feared that would be impossible next year, given what I perceived as Mr. Canfield's gruff personality.)

But the scariest rumor of all was that he had "epileptic fits" that sometimes made him fall to the floor and caused his mouth to foam up like a rabid animal. It sounded awful and I was afraid to witness such a thing.

Throughout the summer I begged my mother to get me transferred to another class but she refused and told me to hold off judging him until I'd actually been in his class for a few weeks and could form my own opinions. She also explained that epilepsy wasn't anything to fear and that there were medications that usually prevented seizures.

Mr. Canfield Turns Out to be My Greatest Teacher

Fortunately, Mom turned out to be right and by the end of 5th grade Mr. Canfield had become one of the most influential adults in my life and my greatest teacher.

The first lesson he taught me was that learning had nothing to do with getting good grades- it was about discovering the wonders of science and nature and loving the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, not external rewards.

His classroom was an awesome place filled with terrariums, pet rodents so we could learn about procreation, and scientific experiments in varying degrees of progress. Students were encouraged to become peer mentors and help each other with difficult projects which fostered cooperation in place of competition.

By the end of the year he had become a family friend which meant that he continued to have a strong influence in my life for more than a decade.

Lessons In Faith And Love

When he learned that my parents weren't taking me to church he asked for and received permission to take me to his own church and bought me a bible. We'd arrive at church early every Sunday and have lively discussions about verses he assigned to me each week. The cool part was that he always wanted to hear my opinion on what the verse meant instead of "preaching" at me. I still have the 3 by 5 card with I Corinthians Chapter 13 written in his handwriting and I believe it's the best definition of love, especially where it says, "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

Unfortunately, I would learn the full meaning of those words all too soon. When I was 16 I fell in love with a boy who had cancer. At the end of our second year together my boyfriend died.

Mr. Canfield came to the funeral parlor and sat quietly in the back of the room for several hours watching me from afar, lending support by his unobtrusive presence. The next time we spoke in private he said, "You are a full grown woman now, because the love you had with your boyfriend was mature beyond your years. It showed full commitment in sickness and health, and I'm so sorry for your loss but also proud of the way you've handled yourself throughout all that the two of you went through together."

It meant a lot that he acknowledged the depth of my loss and wasn't saying platitudes like you're young and will get over it. He encouraged me to move forward and focus on my college studies so that I could complete my nursing degree and help others.

Eulogy For A Great Teacher

When I was 22, Mr. Canfield, who was 39, had an epileptic seizure while taking a shower and drowned in his own bathtub. Though I had always known he suffered from epilepsy, I had never actually witnessed him having a seizure and his death was a terrible shock and great loss to myself and all the future students who would never get to have him as their teacher.

He had never married or had children of his own which was, I suspect, why he had taken me under his wing and into his heart. My own father was a workaholic who had rarely spent time with me while I was growing up so Mr. Canfield filled a void that was in my life and I filled a void that was in his.

Winston Churchill once said, "You make a living by what you get, you make a life by what you give."

Mr. Canfield earned his living as a teacher but gave his life to his students, molding their characters, shaping their values and instilling a love of learning. If he were still alive today I'd send him a Valentine filled with love and gratitude, letting him know exactly what he meant to me. Instead, I pass this Valentine onto you, dear reader, hoping it will inspire you to track down your favorite teacher this Valentine's Day and send a special card or email letting them know exactly what they meant to you.

Honoring Your Special Teacher

Was there an unforgettable, favorite teacher in your life?

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  • kenneth avery profile image

    Kenneth Avery 6 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

    Hi, again, with my pleasure, Happyboomernurse, my parents, although lovingly-strict, were all the time, fair-minded and ready to lend their wisdom to me. And Mr. Shotts was the same way. I miss them. Very much. And YOU are very welcome for my words. I meant them. You are a class-act. Genuine. Warm. Witty. Verrrrrrrry-Talented! Im very glad that you are in my world.

  • Happyboomernurse profile image

    Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

    Hello Again, Kenneth Avery,

    Sounds like you got very sage advice from your parents and from your favorite teacher, Mr. Ruble Shotts, whose motto, "knowledge is the best offense," is something I wholeheartedly agree with.

    Thanks for your kind words.

  • kenneth avery profile image

    Kenneth Avery 6 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

    1:18 p.m./cst are welcome, for what I say or write is the truth. My parents taught me early-on to never waste two things: Time and Words. So I try not to do that. My favorite teacher was my 12th grade American Government teacher, Mr. Ruble Shotts, who has now went on to his reward. He was gruff, strict, loud, firm, but FAIR. He taught me to stand my ground both verbally and with self-defense. He was a military man when he was younger. His motto was, "knowledge is the best offense," and I found out AFTER I graduated...he was right. I loved this hub. And urge you to do more.

  • Happyboomernurse profile image

    Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

    Welcome Kenneth Avery,

    And thanks so much for your lovely comment. I am so glad you enjoyed this hub which is meant as a special tribute to a man who taught me so much and was such an excellent moral example of how to live one's life. I was truly blessed to be one of his students.

    Sounds like you live in a wonderful small town, but I doubt you are a "nobody." I will definitely stop by to see your hubs.

    The one thing I learned from Mr. Canfield is that we are all "somebody" in God's eyes.

    Take Care and thank you for becoming a follower.

  • kenneth avery profile image

    Kenneth Avery 6 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama


    Hi, Happyboomernurse,

    Wow. Amazing hub. You made Mr. Canfield come through my PC screen and sit beside me as I read this wonderful hub. I voted up and all the way. What a sincere talent you possess. Really. I am in awe of your natural talent. Im so glad that I found you on hubs. And now I get to follow you. You are also invited to check out my hubs if you need a good laugh. And follow me. I would appreciate that so much. You and yours have a Happy New Year and keep these great hubs coming. Who am I? A nobody really. My name is Kenneth Avery. I live in Hamilton, a small northwest Alabama town that looks a lot like Mayberry, that sweet little town on the Andy Griffith Show. Take care. And I will look for you.

  • Happyboomernurse profile image

    Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

    Dear Lyricwriter,

    The old quote, "When the student is ready the teacher appears" reminds me that whether they be our "official teachers" or a wonderful mentor who teaches us life lessons, it is indeed more than chance when these special people enter our lives, and yes we don't often realize in the beginning of the relationship just how much influence these special teachers will have on our lives. I was very blessed to have a teacher like Mr. Canfield and I'm glad you had a special teacher in your life, also. Thanks, as always, for your support and insightful comment.

  • thelyricwriter profile image

    Richard Ricky Hale 6 years ago from West Virginia

    It is funny how we cross paths with people we don't quite know and we become aquainted with them. These exact times are very crucial, although they are not known at first. This is a great tribute HBN. Teachers are very important in our lives. I remember my special teacher, Mrs. Thomas. She was a good mentor. Very well written and a great story HBN. Up and all across:) Talk to you soon.

  • Happyboomernurse profile image

    Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

    Hi Ubanichijioke,

    So glad you enjoyed my tribute to my special teacher. He was such a great influence on me and I was really blessed to have him as a teacher/mentor.

    Thanks for taking time to leave such a lovely comment. It's greatly appreciated.

  • ubanichijioke profile image

    Alexander Thandi Ubani 6 years ago from Lagos

    Wow! Such a touching didactic and meaningful story. I like the fact that you don't judge people by mere hearsay, rumor etc. A great story

  • Happyboomernurse profile image

    Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

    Welcome Zabbella,

    Thank you so much for your heartfelt comment. It meant a lot to me. I was truly blessed to have Mr. Canfield as my teacher, mentor and friend. I've always known and been greatful for the positive impact he had on my life.

    I have some old photos of when he came to my high school graduation dinner that I want to add to this hub but I have to get them on a disc first.

    Thanks again for your kind and compassionate words.

  • Zabbella profile image

    Zabbella 6 years ago from NJ-USA

    This was truly beautiful. Your teacher helped you so much and encouraged you.

    Also, you already had that drive to be a nurse even when you were 16..there are very few teens that are that attentive to someone else esp. someone with cancer. This was a beautiful tribute to your teacher, mentor, friend.

  • Happyboomernurse profile image

    Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

    Hi Minnetonka Twin,

    Thanks so much for your kind words and insightful comment. They really mean a lot to me. I was so blessed to have this wonderful teacher in my life. He really helped mold my values and character. And yes, I did learn a really great lesson from my mother about not judging people through someone else's opinion of them.

  • Minnetonka Twin profile image

    Linda Rogers 6 years ago from Minnesota

    Wow, this hub had me very choked up Happyboomernurse. What an incredible tribute to a wonderful man, teacher and role model. I like how you brought up your fear of this man before you met him. It really is a good lesson for all of us that you can't listen to what others say and need to form your own opinion. Beautiful hub :-)

  • Happyboomernurse profile image

    Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

    Thanks for your kind comment, Visionandfocus, it's greatly appreciated. I do believe we were both blessed by our relationship, but I know my self-esteem and whole life would have been different without his influence so I'm so grateful he was there for me when I really needed a strong male presence.

  • visionandfocus profile image

    visionandfocus 6 years ago from North York, Canada

    What a beautiful hub! You were lucky to have had Mr Canfield as your teacher, but he was lucky too to have been able to take you under his wing. Sounds like you were a surrogate daughter to him as much as he was a surrogate dad to you. Bless him.

  • Happyboomernurse profile image

    Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

    Hi Jaye,

    I think it's most likely that you were right when you said, "I hope she knew how grateful I was to her, and think she did because I've always worn my heart on my sleeve." I think teachers know when they're really reaching a student and it's what keeps them inspired to remain in teaching.

  • JayeWisdom profile image

    Jaye Denman 6 years ago from Deep South, USA

    I think it's great that the Internet is allowing students to say that all-important "thank you" to the teachers who've inspired their lives. I could have written a letter to Mrs. Pritchard when I realized how much she'd done for me, but that was at least three decades after the fact, and I'm not sure she was even still alive by then. Still...I should have tried. One more regret. JAYE

  • Happyboomernurse profile image

    Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

    Good to "see" you again, Jaye, and am so glad you're relating to my hubs. We seem to have much in common.

    Thanks for sharing thoughts about your Mrs. Pritchard. Perhaps it will help current teachers remember that the things they say and do really can have a positive impact on their students' lives.

    Most of us never did go back to speak and/or thank our favorite teacher(s). It was much harder to keep in touch back then, but nowadays I think many are reconnecting through facebook and I know several of my husband's former students have let him know how much they appreciated what he taught them.

  • JayeWisdom profile image

    Jaye Denman 6 years ago from Deep South, USA

    Your reminiscence of Mr. Canfield brought to mind my own favorite teacher--Mrs. Pritchard, who taught me in third grade. It is to her I owe my love of writing and the ability that began when she put a picture on the schoolroom wall at least once per week and instructed the class to write an essay or story about it.

    This wonderful teacher in a small country school challenged my creativity while also teaching me the "nuts and bolts" of English grammar so I could string words, sentences and paragraphs together in a readable fashion.

    I've thought of her often over the years, but never saw her again after I left that school. I hope she knew how grateful I was to her, and think she did because I've always worn my heart on my sleeve.

    Thanks, Mrs. Pritchard! You made quite an impression on this student so many years ago, and your teaching has positively affected me throughout life.


  • Happyboomernurse profile image

    Gail Sobotkin 7 years ago from South Carolina

    Thanks DeBorrah K. Ogans. The older I get, the more I realize just how much I was blessed by his teaching and spiritual guidance.

    Glad you found this hub inspiring.

  • DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

    DeBorrah K Ogans 7 years ago

    Happyboomernurse, This is a lovely Valentine tribute to your teacher. No doubt he made a great impression upon your life. What a wonderful and memorable role model he was for you. Wonderful inspiring hub!

    In HIS Love, Grace, Joy, Peace & Blessings!

  • Happyboomernurse profile image

    Gail Sobotkin 7 years ago from South Carolina

    Thanks, Peggy.

    Nothing I could write would be able to do justice to his memory and to the beneficial effect he had on my life. I'm sure his character did impact many others, also.

    Thanks for taking time to read this hub and for rating it up.

  • Peggy W profile image

    Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

    What a wonderful tribute to Mr. Canfield, your most unforgettable teacher. Just think what you would have missed had your mother not encouraged you to get to know him better by attending his class. With his character he undoubtedly impacted many students in his time besides you. Really enjoyed this! Rating this up and beautiful.

  • Happyboomernurse profile image

    Gail Sobotkin 7 years ago from South Carolina

    Dear RJ,

    I'm really glad you liked it. I was definitely thinking of Mr. Canfield last night by the time I got to the end of your Mrs. Causey hub. The difference that one sterling, idealistic, dedicated teacher can make in the life of a student is amazing and I was so blessed that he encouraged my academic, spiritual and moral growth throughout elementary school, high school and college.

    Many of my core values did stem from his teachings and for that I'm eternally grateful. Your own stories about Ben and Mrs. Causey have touched me deeply, as though we do view the world from the same lens, finding purpose and meaning in service to others.

    Thanks again for your encouraging feedback.

  • Reynold Jay profile image

    Reynold Jay 7 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

    Beautiful in every way. From this marvelous tribute to the man, I can see why you found my Hub now. We have reoccuring themes, messages for the reader--not simply a story that rambles on. Universal values that everyone can relate to are here. There is enough here to do an entire novel. RJ

  • Happyboomernurse profile image

    Gail Sobotkin 7 years ago from South Carolina

    Hi Katiem,

    Yes, the world can always use more teachers like my Mr. Canfield. I was so blessed to have him in my life.

    Thanks for stopping by and taking time to leave a comment.

  • katiem2 profile image

    katiem2 7 years ago from I'm outta here

    Blessings to Mr. C, what a delightful tribute to a wonderful teacher, may we have more like him. Love and Peace :)

  • Happyboomernurse profile image

    Gail Sobotkin 7 years ago from South Carolina

    Hi Stephanie,

    I think the two pieces do complement each other well so I've linked to this hub. It's fun to spread a little "Hub Love!"

    Thanks for taking time to read and comment on my hubs. It really means a lot to me.

  • Stephanie Henkel profile image

    Stephanie Henkel 7 years ago from USA

    What a fine tribute to your teacher! It does fit it so well with my "Seven Useful Things I Learned in High School" that I'm going to link it. I'm really enjoying your hubs!


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