A Tribute to My First Grade Teacher

Linda L. Knight
Last week, I spoke at a memorial service for Linda L. Knight. She was my teacher in first grade, and she later became a friend of mine. She was an important part of my life, so I want to share the approximate text of my eulogy. I say “approximate” because I never write down my public presentations. I just use some notes and have a rough outline in my head of what I will say. Thus, what follows isn’t exactly what I said. It is, however, as near as I can remember it. Because I was speaking to her friends, most of whom live in the same town, there are some local references that many people won’t understand. Please don’t let that get in the way of the message.


William Arthur Ward once said:

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.

Linda Knight was a great teacher. She inspired me. I can honestly say that if it hadn’t been for her inspiration, I would not be the scientist I am today. The impressive thing about this is that she wasn’t one of my college teachers. She wasn’t one of my high school teachers. She wasn’t even one of my middle school teachers. She was my first grade teacher. Nevertheless, her inspiration sticks with me to this day. Titus 2:7-8 says:

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned…

That’s exactly how Linda Knight taught. She was an incredible role model, she taught with dignity and integrity, and the things she taught us were sound.

I have to say that as I got older, I used to delight in telling people that she was my first grade teacher. When my wife and I moved back here to Anderson, we started attending this church, and Linda attended it as well. When I found myself near Linda and someone who didn’t know, I would tell that person she was my first grade teacher. The older I got, the more enjoyable that became. It ended up being such a joke that my elder brother, who is six years older than me and never had her as a teacher, would also tell people that she was his first grade teacher. Of course Linda had such a great sense of humor that such things just rolled off her back…at least that’s how I choose to remember it!

But anyway, she was my first grade teacher at Columbia Elementary School. Does anyone even remember that school? It was on 8th and Madison, where the Village Pantry is now. I don’t remember much of what went on at that school, but I remember a lot about what went on in Miss Knight’s class. I am sure if you were able to find the annals of Columbia Elementary School, or those of Southview Elementary School where she spent most of her career, you would find lots of students who had Miss Knight for a teacher. I am sure if you tracked them down as adults, many of them would say the same thing: “I don’t remember much about what went on in elementary school, but I remember Miss Knight’s class.”

I think this poem by Joanna Fuchs best sums up my thoughts about Miss Knight as a teacher:

If I could teach you, teacher,
I’d teach you how much more
you have accomplished
than you think you have.
I’d show you the seeds
you planted years ago
that are now coming into bloom.
I’d reveal to you the young minds
that have expanded under your care,
the hearts that are serving others
because they had you as a role model.
If I could teach you, teacher,
I’d show you the positive effect
you have had on me and my life.

I was blessed to have Linda Knight as a teacher, but I was doubly blessed, because she eventually became my friend as well. I remember when I was six years old and was so excited because I saw my teacher getting out of a car in my driveway and walking up to my porch to visit me! Of course, she wasn’t there to visit me. She was there to visit my parents, because she was their friend. However, I thought she was there to visit me, and I’ll tell you what – when she came in that door, she made it feel like she had come to visit me.

As I got older, I came to know Linda as a person, and we became friends. For example, when I was in high school, I got into running. I know it’s hard to believe looking at me now, but in fact, I used to run marathons. Well, while she was able, Linda was really into exercise as well. So when I was in high school, she and I were running partners. She would pick me up, take me to Shadyside Lake, and we would run around the lake. Proverbs 27:9 says:

The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.

In those drives to and from Shadyside, and in the process of huffing and puffing around that lake, I received a lot of sweet counsel from Linda.

So Linda Knight was instrumental in molding me academically, but she was also instrumental in molding me as a person. I would not be the scientist or the person I am today without her influence, and I am forever grateful to her. Ray Boltz sings a song called “Thank You”. It tells of a man dreaming that he went to heaven. He sees a friend, and they walk together on the streets of gold. As they walk, people come up to his friend and thank his friend for doing something that profoundly influenced their life. At one point, he says that the people who wanted to thank his friend stretched as far as the eye could see.

Now that Linda is in heaven, I am sure there is a long line of people in front of her. They probably stretch as far as the eye can see. Each is waiting to thank her for what she did for them.

I have to tell you that when I go to heaven, I am going to get in that line.

2 thoughts on “A Tribute to My First Grade Teacher”

  1. Dr. Wile, that’s a wonderful tribute, and I was wondering if you would mind sharing with us what she did that made her so memorable a teacher?

    1. Thanks, S.J. There were at least three things she did to be such a memorable teacher. The first was that she really got to know each of her students individually. That way, she knew how to best meet their needs. For example, she saw that I got bored really easily when she was trying to work with the students who needed more help. So she gave me what she called “special projects” to do to keep me learning (and keep me from disrupting the others) during those times. The second was that she was very visual. She would act out concepts she was trying to explain, and she did all sorts of science demonstrations. For example, to explain evaporation, condensation into clouds, and precipitation, she had made a device out of a hotplate. It had a cradle attached that held a metal basin above the center of the hot plate. She put ice in the basin and then heated a pot of water on the hotplate. Of course, the evaporating water rose, condensed onto the cold basin, collected, and then started dripping down into the pan. It was a great demonstration, especially to a first-grader’s eyes! I ended up making a similar experiment for my new elementary science course, because it has stuck with me all these years. Such demonstrations were common in her class. The third thing was that she always went the extra mile. I remember working really hard on a project where I was trying to build something out of popsicle sticks. I can’t remember what I was supposed to be building, but as I was working on it, something happened (I don’t remember what, but I seem to remember it being my fault), and it ended up getting badly broken. I was devastated, because I was proud of it, and it had taken a LOT of work. Well, she told me to cheer up. We would fix it together. She called my mother to make sure it was okay, and we stayed after school and worked on it together to fix it. Then she took me home. I felt like the most important student in class for about a week after that, but the fact is, she would do those kinds of things for all her students.

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