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Published:July 23rd, 2012 09:34 EST

"gOLD" Nuggets: Learning From the Elderly

By Harry J. Getzov

Here, Virgina explains why being a teacher has meant so much to both her, and to her students.

Virginia Thomas (75) -- Springfield, Missouri

virginiathomas_1 "I always knew I wanted to be a teacher."

I met Virginia while I was visiting the Northview Senior Center in Springfield, Missouri. She was teaching a writing class that day and, within thirty seconds, I could see very clearly just how important teaching was to her. I was lucky to be able to "stay after class"  that afternoon, so Virginia could tell me about her passion for working with all kinds of students.

"I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, Virginia said, smiling. "I had learning instilled in me by my parents, neither of whom graduated from high school. But they both loved to read, and my first Christmas they gave me a book of Bible stories, nice big print, with pretty pictures. And then they also got a dictionary for the whole family -- but they called it mine, and I still have it," Virginia explained.  "Also, my dad had kept all his textbooks. He had what were called the Little Great Classics. I don`t know how many there were, but it was a set, and, boy, he loved to read those. And so we just grew up with books all around us. I was reading even before I went to first grade. And when we were kids and played school, I was always the teacher, and all my teachers expected me to be a teacher. That`s just the way it was. I feel it`s a calling, just as a minister feels called, I really do. I think we`re second to ministers in being called by God to do what we can.

I have the gift of empathy as well as the gift of being an encourager," Virginia explained. "It`s very gratifying to know I`m playing a special role in people`s lives. I mean, we all have down days and perhaps we all have moments when we wonder, really, if we`re achieving what we need to achieve and that sort of thing. And all it takes is a smile of recognition, or a card or a phone call or something and, immediately, we`re back up on that pedestal. Sometimes that pedestal can be a bit rocky . . . but it`s a joy to be able to encourage people. It`s essential to give a little word of encouragement or a pat on the back that way. Or to show a little patience with some who are not so used to having people be patient with them. In that regard, I think high school is such a fascinating age, I really do. There are so many different personalities and, over the years, you get to watch them grow and mature. I had an opportunity to teach at Duke University and turned it down, because I enjoyed teaching high-school students so much. They`re still so alive at that age, malleable, and you can see such progress.

There have been so many students along the way. The sad part is, we often remember only the extremes -- the really top students and, of course, those little devils who took up too much of our time. But that average group that kept everything going -- the nice everyday people who are still doing that kind of thing today -- we don`t have as many memories of those people."

Harry J. Getzov is the founder of Eldercation -- an organization committed to changing the way our culture views aging and older people. He is also the author of the newly released award-winning book, "gOld --€ The Extraordinary Side of Aging Revealed Through Inspiring Conversations" --€ Available at