This week my kids got postcards telling them who their teacher would be for the coming school year. It took me right back to my days as a Clarksburg C-2 Bulldog. My teacher for most of my formative years was Nancy Hartman, who had a huge influence on my life. Between her and my mom, who was also a teacher, I learned how important it was to have a good education.
I also learned — the hard way — that the most important part of learning was to be in your seat when the bell rang. It may sound silly, but Mrs. Hartman taught me that if you wanted to learn, you first had to show up.
While her job often looked more like wrangling a pack of wild animals than teaching, she was able to do this with such a generous heart that every kid felt special. It was quite clear that her goal in life was to see her students achieve great things in and out of the classroom.
Most likely a teacher like Mrs. Hartman, who earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Central Missouri, could have taught at a bigger school and made more money. Instead, she chose to spend her entire teaching career at a small rural school where some of the class sizes, like mine, were no bigger than eight.
Like most of the faculty at a small school like Clarksburg, Mrs. Hartman was more than a teacher. She made sure my buddy, Justin, didn’t get in trouble when he rode his horse to school. She held our hands when we were huddled in the hallway during a tornado. She had us write letters to our future selves to be opened on graduation day. When my mom died, she and some other teachers set up a scholarship fund in her name.
I still remember the hugs she handed out to the kids at Clarksburg. Looking back, I suspect those were the only hugs some of the kids ever got. I was heartbroken when she passed away a year ago this month, but I’ll never forget the life lessons she taught me.
It was no surprise that her kids, Robb and Nicole, now work in the education field. Recently I learned my teacher’s husband, Steve, works for Central Electric Power Cooperative. This small-world moment didn’t surprise me. Electric co-ops are staffed by people with a passion for what they do, just like my teacher.
The people who work in these small country schools across Missouri are the same type of people who work at your local electric co-op. They love what they do — helping build the future of rural Missouri.
It’s this passion that sets electric cooperatives apart from the other electric utilities in the state. Co-ops are small enough to know you, but big enough to ensure you have all the electricity you need, when you need it.
Caleb is the executive vice president and CEO of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives and a member of Boone Electric Cooperative.