A Balancing Act

January 12, 2008
By
The first day of school, my teacher (who, according to my schedule was named Mrs. Collier), wasn’t there. I thought that was a little odd. When I met her and got to know her, that notion faded away.
Mrs. Collier is my hero simply because she deserves to be. I can’t think of a person who balances her life any better, and that, in itself, is enough for me.
“It doesn’t matter what you’re friends or I think, it matters what you think,” she says to a student who can’t figure out what color he should paint his picture. Mrs. Collier often says that she will do everything to help a student pass her class, and it’s true—students are allowed to work in bonus period to gain points back. She also allows students to drop in and simply visit her. There aren’t many teachers who are both work and play—and Mrs. Collier is definitely one of them.
When I finally met my Media Arts teacher on the second day of school, the first thing I truly noticed was that she was short. She reminded me a little of someone I think we all know: Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz. Blond hair, mega-watt smile, and all she needed was a wand to wave around.
“Wherever I am with my kids, I’m happy,” she says. You can tell. Mrs. Collier’s room is dominated by artwork created by students over the years, but on the wall next to her rather cluttered desk, pictures of her children hang prominently. Drew, Bryson, and Sophie all look down on the room from their perch. Her dog, Booty, has pictures scattered around the room. Her husband is a little hard to spot, but he’s there too, mixed in with the typography assignments and timelines on display. Her whole family’s there, watching, as students prosper under Mrs. Collier’s tutelage.
One day in class we were grading a quiz—a necessary evil, according to our teacher—and we got sidetracked. We ended up talking about her only girl, Sophie. Since it was only a few weeks in, we didn’t know much about her kids, and the whole class was happy to not discuss the Brownie camera and how it’s invention eventually shaped America (or something like that). She told Sophie’s story, and by the end of it, the class was silent, and I realized why she wasn’t at school the first day. I looked over at the girl sitting across from me, and she looked back with wide eyes. Everyone in the room was thinking the same thing, and finally someone voiced it.
“How can you keep going, then?”
Sophie was born with only half of her heart. It’s a rare disease—Truncus DiGeorge—and she was given a revolutionary treatment that kept her alive. She wasn’t expected to live through the night she was born, but somehow, she did. There aren’t many stories that can make me believe in miracles, but this one did. Sophie has a compromised immune system—meaning that she can’t go outside often, and when she does go, she’s often sick. Sophie will turn seven next week. Mrs. Collier answered the question with a small smile, and she said, “Life’s too short.”
Mrs. Collier has also raised money and awareness about this disease, not only through school, but through magazines, newspapers, and many other avenues. She’s even taken Sophie to shoot a commercial.
Her two boys, Drew and Bryson are also adorable, with blonde hair that matches both their sister’s and their mother’s. Mrs. Collier calls Bryson (the youngest) her “monster,” while she says Drew is sweet, and really cares how you feel. When she talks about her kids, despite all the not-so-bright spots, you can tell she loves them very much.
“I can’t believe I have to let you guys go already!”
This makes me laugh—she’s been saying this for days now. We’re in the homestretch of the first trimester, and we’re all coloring like mad to finish our David Hockney color enlargements. Mrs. Collier’s at her desk (a rare thing), talking about how much she misses her students once the trimester’s over. She says that one trimester of Media Arts isn’t particularly fair—because right when everyone gets comfortable, the rug’s pulled out from under them. Mrs. Collier says she wants her students to leave her classroom with a lot of things, but foremost, confidence in themselves. I was just starting to find that confidence through all her encouragement of creativity in the classroom, and I couldn’t help but agree. Part of my not wanting to leave was, admittedly, my mild success with the class, some of it was the people I had it with, but I know a lot of it had to do with the person teaching it.
“I love her! If she was my mother, I’d be happy,” Amanda Echlin says, laughing. This type of sentiment is found all around the school, not only from the students, but teachers too. I’ve never seen such love for one teacher, or such love so well-deserved.
To choose someone you can look at and say, “You are my hero,” is hard. Katie Collier is my hero because there’s so much about her—the way she looks, the way she acts, the way she loves life and family, the way she continues on—that makes you want to do something good, not only in her class, but in the outside world. She has affected me in so many ways, most importantly in my belief that however bad it gets, there’s nothing so bad that you can’t find something to enjoy. There is no person in the world who handles all she does so well and still manages to be an amazing teacher, mother, and person.
There’s so much about Katie Collier that begs the word hero—even Glinda couldn’t be called one—most especially the balancing of her life and how she somehow comes out with a smile. There’s no time for sadness or anger.
Life’s too short.





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