Believe it or not, my best teacher ever was in the first grade. Her name was Miss Fee. She captured my full admiration and her classroom was a safe haven for me.

In the Exceeding Expectations series, today's teachers in the College of Adult and Professional Studies profile instructors who indelibly influenced and impacted them.  Dr. Theresa Veach, Professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences, remembers her best teacher ever:

Veach, Theresa 1st grade

Theresa Anne Kochenderfer, circa 1st Grade

There was a great deal of turbulence going on in my home at the time. In the first grade I was learning more than how to read; I was learning how to survive. I remember one life-changing moment when I learned that surviving in this world didn’t always mean retaliating against the opposition.

Pushed Into the Mud

It was a rainy, muddy day. I was with about fifty other children playing on the playground. The whistle blew and we went running to get into our lines, boys in one line and the girls beside them in our own line. The boys began shoving the girls into the mud. After awhile, I decided to push back.  No boy was going to get one over on me. As I pushed, Mrs. Roach—the second grade, very scary, very "mean" teacher—came walking down the center between the boys’ and the girls’ lines, right when I decided to retaliate.

Yes, I pushed Mrs. Roach into the mud.

Shame Washed Away

Mrs. Roach was not okay with this and the quiet, little ‘good’ Theresa Anne Kochenderfer got into big trouble. I was inconsolable. I just knew Miss Fee would be so upset with me, so disappointed for what I had done.


Instead of being angry, Miss Fee had all of us go to the story circle. She sat me right beside her and she read stories until I had regained my six-year-old, first-grade composure.  I will never forget that moment, the moment when Miss Fee’s compassion washed away all my muddy shame.

Question: How do you make the learning environment a safe haven for your students? Please leave a comment below.

Dr. Theresa Veach / Professor, Department of Behavioral Sciences

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