Arizona K12 Center Executive Director Dr. Kathy Wiebke reflects on the lessons she learned from her mother and how they shaped her work in education.Jan 16, 2020
They say a child’s first teacher is their parents. If that is true, I had an A+ education. My mom passed away last Sunday and I have spent the last week thinking about the profound influence she had on my life. Many of the lessons she instilled in me have echoed throughout my work as a classroom teacher and as an advocate for Arizona educators.
When I was a young girl, I remember my mom would go out of her way to do special things for our teachers. I remember making May Day baskets of fresh flowers in butter tubs with my mom and sisters and hanging them on our classroom doors before the teachers got to school. At Christmas, she would make these amazing platters of homemade cookies wrapped in cellophane with these incredible bows. I remember them as being beautiful, extravagant, and delicious. When I had my own classroom, my mom would make counted cross-stitch lids for all 30 students every year when we made homemade strawberry jam for Mother’s Day gifts. And, when I was in a bind, I could count on her to cut letters, make centers, and help me put up my bulletin boards. Her actions taught me to be generous with my time and talents.
In my freshman year of high school, my mom told me that I needed to take typing. I remember her saying, “A girl should never be dependent upon a man for anything. If you can type, you can always get an office job.” She taught me to be self-reliant and always have a back-up plan.
At the holidays, we would always adopt a family from the Angel Tree at the mall and shop for them. She always made sure to select a family that had children because she felt Christmas belonged especially to the young. Even when you thought she was done, she, more often than not, selected an additional family from the church Angel Tree. Throughout the year, she would find ways to give because she understood that those in need are in need 365 days a year and not just at the holidays. Her actions taught me to remember my good fortunes and to not forget those who weren’t as lucky. Years later when I had my classroom, my kids would always hold a fundraiser and I would take them shopping for our adopted family. Like my mom, I wanted them to know how fortunate they were and that we always need to reach out to those who are not as fortunate.
When I was a kid, my mom taught me how to sew. She was painstakingly precise. I remember her making me press open my seams, iron my fabric and patterns out before cutting things out, and reading my directions carefully. Watching her taught me to pay attention to the details. She also shared with me that if you are going to do something, you should do it well. These lessons play out over and over in all I do: to be thorough, detailed, and accurate.
My mom devoted her life to caring for others as a pediatric nurse. Even as a young child, I remember her working. Her career was important to her and it was one my dad wholeheartedly supported. I think her commitment to the well-being of children is something that led me into the teaching profession. And, while we both pursued stereotypical careers for women, I remember her telling me I could be anything I wanted to be. I believed her.
My mom was in the first graduating class of pediatric nurse practitioners from what was then Good Samaritan Hospital. It wasn’t until much later in life that I realized the significance of this accomplishment. Don’t think it is not lost on me that I inherited her trailblazer spirit by being the first teacher in Arizona to attempt and achieve National Board Certification. She taught me to never settle and to always strive to do and be more.
My mom was not only generous, she was kind. She went out of her way to be nice to others. She was the first one to offer to help her kids with something. When my mom was being transported from the hospital to a group home under the care of Hospice of the Valley, she asked my sister if she should tip the driver. She was kind and thoughtful until the end.
A few years ago, my mom came to my house and we watched the movie Hidden Figures, a film about a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in the early years of space flight. I remember my mom asking me to pause the film as she was visibly upset at the injustices being depicted in the film. In that moment, I realized where I got my strong sense of social justice.
My mom’s lessons of hard work, generosity, kindness, self-reliance, justice, and independence live on. We all lead by the examples we set. While much can be learned in our schools, it is the lessons we learn at home that shape who we are as people, and, for that, I will be eternally grateful to my mom.