My Teacher's Gift

October 27, 2017

7th grade. What a strange time for a young boy. I had moved up from elementary and so now I was in middle school. I thought that, you know, it will be the same ole thing. And it was, but for one class. Mrs. Barlow’s 7th grade math class. I didn’t know it at the time, but this would be the class that would set me straight. The teacher that would push me, expect more of me, challenge me and more times than should have been necessary, put me in my place. I thrived on it.

Mrs. Cynthia Barlow Smith was, simply put, the best teacher I ever had. And that’s saying a lot because I was fortunate to have many great teachers. She knew her math and all, but man did she see right through me. Although we were in that awkward early teen phase, she gave us all a chance to be who we wanted to be, but she gave us strict boundaries that pushed us to be more than just a good math student. She was going to help make us great people. During the next two years, she would not only teach me the foundations of mathematics, but the principles of becoming a responsible adult and a good person.

Years later, when it came time for me to settle into an occupation, becoming a Math teacher was an easy call. I had such a great model to follow, and better still, I would get to work with her as a colleague for many years to come in several different capacities. We just kind of were able to always be working together in one way or another. How thankful I am.

14642428_10209520190955415_865686319289437617_n.jpgMe and my son Jack, 2016. 

This morning I got the text. “...she’s gone.” Having been through the emotional torture of losing a loved one to cancer, I was expecting to get word, but it still landed as heavy as ever. I remember when my father passed someone saying, “We lost a good one today”. And so it is again on this day.

Cynthia had such a strong faith, a loyal following and a gift for understanding--insight beyond compare and compassion for everyone she knew. None of these traits kept her from calling it as it was though, and I think that was her greatest gift to all of us. She didn’t condemn us, only to convict us to be better, to do better, because she believed that we all could.

I came from a family of teachers and while that had a great influence on my own teaching style, no one teacher had a greater impact on the teacher I became or the person I am today than Cynthia. I will miss her, but I will cherish her memory every day until I see her again when she will be likely telling me like it is and setting me straight.


Nick Peterman's love for education comes from his heart- and it's a big one. To find out more about the work he does at SchoolStatus, click here: 



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