How 1 teacher changed my life
I don’t know when I realized that Teddie Faye Raines was my favorite teacher. The fact is, I didn’t have time to think about it. As a 17-year-old, I was too busy watching her dance on her desk (which I guess she did that one time she cleared it off); listening to her sing about prepositions; and trying to write anything but love poems.
As the creative writing teacher at the public high school in Russellville, Arkansas, Raines wouldn’t let us write love poems because teenage love poems are the worst. I can confirm this because I wrote many myself before entering her class.
Raines did just about anything to get our attention. In addition to the desk dancing and the grammar songs, she’d read us funny stories to spark our imaginations. I probably laughed more in her class than in any other, before or since.
One day she discovered a bag of old, hardened jumbo marshmallows in a desk drawer, and we all proceeded to throw them at each other. Another time, we had a Febreze fight.
She gave everyone a nickname. To this day, Raines still calls me “Ooo,” a shortened form of “Ooobanks,” which a classmate had used in a story.
To help us write descriptions using senses other than sight, she blindfolded us, made us all hold on to a long stick, and led us throughout the school, including into classrooms where teachers were lecturing. I have no idea whether she warned them beforehand.
But she wasn’t always silly. The first time I saw Raines was not at school but at church, in the early 2000s. I watched her tell someone, “We just invaded Iraq,” in a tone that dared the person not to react. This is the dichotomy: One minute she’s making a pun or quoting “Napoleon Dynamite,” and the next minute she’s urging you to share Jesus with anything that moves, because the signs of Christ’s return are only increasing.
In her classroom hung a poster — neon green, I believe — on which she’d written in fat, black Sharpie: “Fact does not require your assent to be true.” I soon found out that that referred to the gospel.
She often straddled the line between what she was and was not allowed to say as a public school teacher. She told me that sometimes she’d set a gospel tract on her desk and tell a student, “I can’t give you this. But I can’t stop you from taking it.” They almost always took it.
Raines’ field trips were the best you could ask for as a high-schooler. In the fall she took us to Lost Valley, a woodsy hike near the Buffalo National River, and in the spring she let us run wild in Eureka Springs, an eccentric tourist town not far from the Missouri border. We completed a gamut of writing assignments after each trip.
At the end of the Lost Valley hike sits Eden Falls Cave, where each year Raines commanded at least two classrooms’ worth of high-schoolers to turn off their flashlights and stay silent for a full minute. Sounds weird, but there’s a waterfall inside the cave (or a trickle, depending on rain), and she wanted us to appreciate the sound. In fall 2004, as I listened to that water drip in the blackness, I felt the presence of God more strongly than I ever had.
The irony is, I didn’t know Him yet. He used Raines not only to teach me about writing, but to lead me to Christ, which she did six years after I entered her classroom for the first time.
In the meantime, Raines made me editor of Russellville High School’s literary magazine. My first time putting a publication together was under her guidance.
Raines is not the only great educator out there, or the only one who loves the Lord. She’s just my favorite. You probably have a favorite too, whether from a public, private or parochial school, or even the “parental” institution of homeschooling. If you can, make a point to reach out and thank them. Take it from someone who wouldn’t be saved, sane, or running this magazine if it weren’t for an excellent teacher — they deserve it.
‘Must-reads’ this month:
● Our cover story on Dara Evans, lower-school principal at a cllassical, collaborative Christian school in Ridgeland
● A testimony from Hartfield Academy student Victoria Rogers, page
● Dan Hall’s column about public vs. private vs. homeschooling