As my 10th year of teaching comes to an end, I find myself reflecting on the notorious purple pen. But to be fair, I can‛t exactly take ownership of this purple pen...

If at this point you are confused, let me explain. I have been teaching elementary and middle school literacy for 10 years now. Each year, I have only used one color of pen-you guessed it, purple. My students easily identify my writing by the vibrant color. One year, I even received the “Purple Pen Award” from my students because it is so prominently used in my classroom.

Now you might be asking yourself, what is so important about this colorful pen?

Purple is by no means my favorite color. Sure, it‛s beautiful, but it‛s not the first color I grab from the crayon box when coloring with my two-year-old daughter. The significance of the purple pen has a much deeper meaning for me.

When I made the decision to be an educator 14 years ago, I reflected on what kind of teacher I wanted to be and who I wanted to emulate. That answer came easily-Ms. Wendy Hearn.

My sixth-grade year may easily be my favorite year from elementary/middle school in Anamosa. Ms. Hearn was my absolute favorite teacher, and you guessed it....she always used a purple pen. In those days, it seemed teachers only used red pens to correct student assignments and tests.

Not Ms. Hearn. She was bolder and more special than the other teachers. And whether she realized it or not, her purple pen choice signified that to me.

But what made Ms. Hearn so special? Everything!

She was funny, smart, and interested in her students. She always drove a sporty new car and let us watch Iowa Hawkeye basketball during March Madness.

That doesn‛t mean Ms. Hearn went easy on us academically. We worked hard, and she expected a lot from her students. There weren‛t many behavior problems because students knew not to mess with Ms. Hearn. Although she had tough expectations, the students still adored her.

Sixth grade ended as all school years do. Time went on, I had other teachers, and I grew up.

My sophomore year of high school is when I received the devastating news-my beloved sixth grade teacher lost her courageous battle with cancer.

Even as I write this, 16 years later, the emotion starts to flood back. That phone call rocked my world. A classmate of mine called me with the news, and I remember both of us crying on the phone for hours. Her funeral is still a vivid memory with a church filled with students and teachers all overcome with grief.

Did she know how loved she was? Did she know the difference she made? Did I ever express my own thoughts to her? Those questions could not be answered. Now, as a seasoned teacher myself, I realize I may never truly know the impact I have on my students. Students may never share their feelings with me, but that doesn‛t mean they don‛t feel strongly. This is what drives me each day-to try to connect with my students and try to make them feel as special as Ms. Hearn made me feel.

And how can I try to honor and remember my favorite teacher? Well, I think that answer should be obvious at this point.

My purple pen.

Kelly Ainesworth was a member of the Anamosa High School Class of 2005 and currently teaches fifth grade literacy/social studies at College Community Schools.

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