By Lisa Whaley

There is a feeling in the air: that crisp, fragrant reminder that fall is right around the corner. School buses have hit the road again and, if you listen carefully, you can now hear the happy chatter of children early each morning as they prepare for another day at school.

It always makes me a little nostalgic each year, and a little regretful, that fall school days have long passed me by.

Though I was happy each summer, I loved school as a child and was more than delighted in September when it was time to buy pencils, notebooks, crayons and lunch boxes and set back about the task of learning.

I relished the discovery of new ideas, the exploration of new worlds and then, the chance to read, read and read some more

But this year, rather than the classes, the subjects or even the books I loved, I have been thinking a lot about my teachers.

I remember Mrs. Welch, a teacher with a sweet smile and a special way of making a little third grade student feel warm and welcomed.

I remember Mrs. Barnes, a strict and intimidating instructor who was in charge of a classroom of rambunctious fourth graders

For years, I thought I didn’t like Mrs. Barnes. She had short dark hair, cat-eye glasses and a stern, no-nonsense look. She gave me my first low-grade – “NS” for needs improvement in penmanship. Sadly, I still fall short in that skill.

But she was also the teacher that would patiently read to us such classics as “The Wind in the Willows,” “The Secret Garden” and “Charlotte’s Web.”

Now, rather than recalling her with dislike, Mrs. Barnes makes me smile – and I lay at her feet my ongoing love of everything from F. Scott Fitzgerald and Jane Austen to Frances Hodgson Burnett and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

There was also gentle, kind Mr. Peterson.

Mr. Peterson taught science and math. He was an older teacher, one of those that was sometimes mocked by the “cooler” kids. But as Mr. Peterson was teaching me algebra, chemistry and trigonometry, he was also teaching me to believe in myself.

“She’s Stanford material,” he would tell my mom.

I truly believe I have Mr. Peterson to thank for some of the confidence I needed to leave my small, small town and succeed somewhere beyond its quiet streets.

And then there was Mrs. Towery. Mrs. Towery was my English teacher, as well as my German teacher. She was smart, funny and uniquely herself. She introduced me to the art of choosing the best words to paint the most vibrant picture. Like Mr. Peterson, she helped me to feel smart and self-assured. She gifted me with so many skills I needed to succeed.

Teaching is not an easy job. It takes lots of hard work. It takes time. And it can take money, if you want to do it well.

Still, the best teachers, I have found, give even more than that. They give of themselves.

Often under-appreciated. Occasionally mocked and ridiculed. They just keep giving because they believe they can make a difference in their students’ lives.

And they do.

This fall, while I am busy reminiscing, I want to pause and say thank you – to all the Mrs. Towerys, Mr. Petersons and Mrs. Barnes out there.

It may at times seem like a thankless profession. But you are making a difference. You are changing lives.

And I promise you, your students will remember you well.