· Susan Painter ·
The older you get—hopefully—the more memories you’ll have to write about.
Recently, I’ve run into a number of former students from my days as a School Resource Officer when I was a sergeant with the Reno County Sheriff’s Office. Since I visited the schools for so many years, like full-time teachers, I continue to refer to these young people, now adults, as “my” students.
One student reminded me that he had a really tough time in school due to being bullied. He appreciated me standing up for him.
Another former student told me that his parents split up due to substance abuse issues. He remembered me encouraging his class to avoid the misuse of drugs and senseless violence.
Then yesterday, I was helped at a store by Ben, an employee. He caught me up on his life, including that he has six children. It took me a second to comprehend how a student of mine could already have six children. Then I did the math.
Finally, I spoke with Pretty Prairie School Superintendent Randy Hendrickson about the annual Youth Writing Contest sponsored by the Kansas Authors Club. During our conversation, my memories of working in Pretty Prairie’s fourth-grade classrooms surfaced.
Russ Gaeddert and Susan Painter were the two teachers I collaborated with on teaching conflict resolution in their respective classrooms. We had a great time of partnering up with the students on a weekly basis for nearly a semester.
Sadly, many years ago, Susan Painter died while in the prime of her life. Back then, her husband, Michael, invited me to be one of several people to praise Susan by speaking at her funeral service.
I share with you today my comments, my eulogy of Susan. This is a personal essay. It’s a memoir.
Susan Painter and I were friends. We had a common love of teaching children. We were curriculum partners for a few years in the fourth grade classroom where we taught a course about conflict resolution and character education. We had the perfect class of students to work with because examples of conflicts were never far away, whether they occurred on the playground, hallway, or at home. We examined the conflict escalator, searched for win-win situations, and practiced practical steps to solving problems.
Today, I want to review a portion of that class which included character education, or the “8 Keys of Excellence.” (http://www.8keys.org) I’m honored to apply the 8 Keys to Susan, the Susan I once knew.
Susan lived with INTEGRITY. She was the real thing—not pretentious but authentic, always sincere. Her values and behavior were aligned. And because she was clear about her values, it made her teaching both easy and at the same time, difficult. The standards she expected were straightforward, yet when students didn’t practice what was preached, she wondered, “Why didn’t they get it?” But Susan would always give them another opportunity to be successful . . . once they had an appropriate consequence for their inappropriate behavior. Like I said, she was a professional yet instinctive teacher, and teachers don’t miss teachable moments.
Susan acknowledged that FAILURE LEADS TO SUCCESS. In the classroom we talked about the famous inventor, Thomas Edison, who understood that every time he “failed” to find a filament for the incandescent light bulb, he was actually closer to discovering the illuminating solution. Susan also looked at her teaching as a process of finding a better approach to every challenge. We were on the lookout together, finding ways for our developing youngsters to shine.
SPEAK WITH GOOD PURPOSE was a skill that defined Susan. She was responsible for honest and direct communication. While others might beat around the bush, Susan cut to the chase. In fact, though I’d been a police officer for twenty years, Susan taught me a thing or two about being assertive and standing up for my rights while respecting the rights of others.
Susan, despite a world where cancer had repeatedly touched her life, lived in the present. “THIS IS IT!” she might have proclaimed, teaching me that every day and every interaction is precious. Today we are told to “be here now.” Susan understood and practiced that principle years ago.
Susan followed her vision. She had COMMITMENT. This key to excellence was similar to her key of INTEGRITY, where she stayed the course, doing whatever was necessary to get the job done.
OWNERSHIP is a key that sometimes seems in short supply today, but Susan clearly understood the concept of being accountable and responsible. I could always rely on her. She was responsive to the needs of her students, peers, and family. One week when I had to miss a class, she and her students used the time to make a gift for me. They created a book titled Sam and Sally, illustrating the steps of conflict resolution. Susan was an example of going above and beyond the call of duty—never because it was expected—always because it was part of her generous nature.
Before I worked with Susan as a partner, I wasn’t too sure about her ability to be FLEXIBLE. She was the teacher who wanted things done her way. Then I had the honor of working with her and seeing her personal ability to go with the flow. And anyway, who was I to judge her? I could get stressed out about a scheduling change while she was living a life with or without cancer. While I wanted things to accommodate my schedule, she was in the moment, celebrating each day alive.
Susan, in between her illness, kept her BALANCE. Her mind, body, and spirit were in alignment. I will remember her sharp intellect, wit, welcome smile, rolling eyes, and laugh. And when I recall her spirit, I’ll always think of her as the strong one in our educational dance around the classroom. Susan was a role model for the students and certainly for me. She was a loving friend who welcomed me as an equal. She was the one with the can-do-anything spirit who I admired. Now, she is free from her mind and body. Now, she is everywhere, in everything, in everyone.
The Susan in me says to the Susan in you, celebrate life to the fullest. Live it with INTEGRITY, remember that FAILURE LEADS TO SUCCESS, to SPEAK WITH GOOD PURPOSE, live in the now—THIS IS IT! Follow your vision, affirm your COMMITMENT, take OWNERSHIP, stay FLEXIBLE, and keep your BALANCE.
Until next time, happy writing and reading!