Being a teacher at New Hope Middle School hasn’t just been a job, it has been a blessing from God. I truly love my students that I teach and have taught in the past, even the students that walk down the hall and pass my doorway that I don’t even know by name because I’ve never taught them. God truly blesses me through them on a daily basis.
As a teacher, it isn’t always just about the subjects that you teach in school. This job is also about how we can guide and shape the young minds that often look up to us and depend on us to give them the knowledge that they need to succeed in life. Once in awhile though, we as teachers have a student that teaches us more than we can ever begin to teach them. For me, Iesha Harris taught me more than I could ever teach any student about what really matters the most in this life.
Long before Iesha was a student in my classroom, I knew who she was – everyone did. It wasn’t just the fact that Iesha was born with spina bifida that made her known to everyone because you had watched her struggle with each step as she walked down the hall. It was the light from within her that shined brighter than the sun in the sky ever could. The smile on her face and the light that radiated from within her allowed God to bless everyone in her path. I can say without a doubt that any teacher or student at New Hope that came into contact with her was blessed and excited anytime they were in her presence. Iesha was always a joy to be around and was friends with everyone – both students and teachers.
I will never forget how excited Iesha was and I was when I began teaching her in August of 2005 when she began her eighth grade school year. I don’t think I’ve ever had a student that seemed so happy to be in my classroom. Iesha was a model student in my language arts classroom. She was dependable, hard working, reliable, trust-worthy, friendly, kind, and eager to learn anything you threw her way in the classroom. It would have been a dream to have had a classroom full of students just like her. As that school year progressed, I developed a love for Iesha that ran very deeply. I truly loved her like one of my own daughters. I knew that Iesha struggled on a daily basis because of spina bifida and it truly broke my heart. I would have given anything to have taken her struggles away. But you know what? I think I struggled more deep down with her disease than she did. You NEVER heard Iesha complain. You never saw Iesha get down. In fact, Iesha was always the person that was encouraging and helping everyone around her.
It broke my heart when the 2005-06 school year came to an end. Iesha had begun talking to me and even writing to me about a surgery she was scheduled to have that summer at UMC in Jackson. During that last week of school, instead of checking out each day after exams, Iesha would take her morning exams and then come down to my classroom and stay there until school dismissed for the day. She would study, draw me pictures, write me letters, and talk to me about her upcoming surgery.
Iesha even came to school on the very last day which was mainly just scheduled for students that had make-up exams to take. Even though she didn’t have any exams to make up, she came to school anyway. She stayed in my classroom that entire day.
Midmorning that last day, I sent Iesha to a neighboring classroom and I snuck down to Dollar General during my planning period. While at Dollar General, I bought Iesha a card and every single thing in that store that I thought she would remotely like. It had hit me that I was losing one of my babies to the high school and this would be the last day that she would ever be one of my students in my classroom.
When I got back to my classroom and brought her back in there and let my oldest daughter, Merri Frances, give her all of those presents, it was all I could do not to break down and cry. Iesha emailed me that night and thanked me for all of her gifts. She said that she had told Merri Frances that she wanted to cry but did not want to feel embarrassed in front of me.
That summer, Iesha emailed me at least 75 times (yes, I still have copies of all of these emails thank goodness). The kids and I also saw her several times at Slip and Dip. Merri Frances gave her our phone number and Iesha even began calling us to keep in touch. She underwent surgeries that summer and those surgeries did improve her condition that she had been struggling with. In every single email and during every single phone call, Iesha always began and ended them by calling me Mommy and telling me that she loved me.
That fall when school resumed, Iesha’s presence in my classroom was missed. I kept in touch with Iesha through email and by seeing her at all of the home football games. I even sent her a Valentine’s Day gift that year as a surprise. She was overjoyed to say the least! She told me that she named the teddy bear Mama Liza. Then I was the one that was overjoyed!
Unfortunately, since Iesha was attending school at NHHS and I was a teacher at NHMS, we didn’t get to see each other as much over the next several years. It wasn’t that we lost touch, we just weren’t around each other every single day of the school week anymore. I did see her at all of the home ball games. She was always there to cheer on her superstar brother, Todd Harris. We also stayed in touch through emails and then kept in touch through Facebook. Once she got a cell phone, we stayed in touch more than ever. (If you are friends with Iesha then you know exactly what I’m talking about. She was a texting girl!) That phone stayed glued to her hand I am sure! I would get numerous texts a week, and sometimes even several a day. Through these texts, Iesha was always encouraging others and sharing Bible scriptures to uplift your day. Sometimes, it was if God himself had typed out the exact verse that I needed to read and sent it through that little angel here on earth.
I attended Iesha’s NHHS graduation at MSU in May of 2010. I couldn’t have been more proud of her. As I walked around the outer hallway at the Humphrey Colliseum passing all of those former students and familiar faces that were lined up to graduate, there was one smiling face that I was searching for more than any other one – the face of Iesha. When she looked up and caught my eye, I have never seen her so happy. As she reached up with those little arms and threw them around my neck, it was all I could do not to break down and cry. (Somewhere I’ve got a picture of the two of us that was taken that day. It’s going to drive me crazy until I find it because I have searched and searched over this last week.) As Mr. Lynn Wright handed Iesha her diploma as she walked across the floor at The Hump, the applause and cheers that were given up for Iesha were louder than the ones for almost anyone else there. Everyone there from New Hope not only knew Iesha, but loved Iesha.
Last Monday night, Feb. 6, Marc had taken me out to eat at McAllister’s Deli in town. While sitting there at the table and having a great time, I received a Facebook message from a former student about Iesha. Danielle Morgan was asking me what had happened to Iesha. She said that she had just heard the news about Iesha’s death and knew that I would know because we were so close.
In reality, I had no idea that Iesha had passed away until that very moment. As I struggled to hold it together inside of the restaurant, it hit me that this tiny little angel on earth had really passed away as I read over a few comments on Facebook. To say that I was devastated is an understatement.
As Marc and I left McAllister’s, I had him call our Lowndes County Coroner, Greg Merchant, to see if it was true. I was praying with all of my heart that it was not true, but as I listened to Marc talk to Greg, I knew that what I wanted would not be.
I had Marc take me immediately to Iesha’s house but nobody was there. We went by again, but nobody was there. I guess I was hoping deep down that once I arrived there she would come to her door with that smile on her face and light in her eyes that always greeted me whenever I saw her. I was hoping that those tiny little arms would reach up and grab me around the neck and hug me to tell me that none of it was true. Unfortunately for myself, I realized the reality of the situation. At that very moment, instead of reaching up and hugging my neck, Iesha was reaching up and hugging the neck of Jesus.
I can’t imagine how hard those next few days were for Iesha’s family as they prepared for her funeral. It was heart wrenching each time I talked to them on the phone or through a text. There were many broken hearts over the fact that Iesha had passed away so suddenly and unexpectedly. None of us got to say goodbye. None of us had expected it. We all knew that she struggled with spina bifida and had undergone many surgeries over the course of her life, but nobody expected Iesha to pass away at the young age of 20 years old. Her life had been and continued to be a miracle with all that she endured, but her death was not expected.
A couple of days after her death, Iesha’s dad (Willie Harris) said that he would like for me to speak at her funeral. I was blown away. I felt honored, yet terrified. I can talk all day long in front of a classroom full of students, but having to speak in front of a crowd was something that makes me nervous even thinking about it! As I prayed about what I would say at the funeral and prepared in my mind what I would speak about, I knew that it was something that I had to do. I didn’t have to only do this for Iesha, but for the ones of us that were left behind and would feel the void in our lives forever because she was no longer here with us.
As I read over the two Facebook pages created in her honor, I came across so much kindness and love that people had for Iesha. You see, Iesha was friendly to everyone. There wasn’t a mean bone in that little girl’s body! I can say without a doubt that I have never heard anyone say a negative thing about her, and unfortunately that just doesn’t happen much when you teach around middle school aged kids ha!
Now, if you are still reading this loooooong piece of material that I’m writing then please don’t roll your eyes and think that you’re going to get an English lesson from Iesha’s former teacher, because that isn’t what this is about. However, I am going to talk to you about some of the parts of speech. As I read over all of the comments on Facebook about Iesha, I’ve never read so many kind words about anyone.
There were so many nouns (a person, place, thing, or idea) and adjectives (words that describe nouns) about Iesha. Some of those nouns and adjectives included: best, wonderful, happy, sweet, sweetest, tiny, smiley, pretty, precious, beautiful, true, independent, hilarious, small, truthful, spunky, encouraging, Holy, loving, caring, amazing, darling, joyous, sassy, prayerful, and angel. I realized though that there was nothing small or tiny about Iesha and the love that she had for me, for her family, for her church, for her teachers, for her friends, and especially for God. She may have been a small girl, but she had a huge spirit.
You see, Iesha wasn’t just a noun with a lot of good adjectives said about her, Iesha was a verb (a word that shows action). Iesha lived her short life to the fullest. She wasn’t just a person on the sidelines. She was the best at all she did. She strived to be wonderful at everything and to everyone. She was happy to just be alive. If you looked up the word sweet or sweetest in the dictionary, I promise her picture would be there as an example! She loved, she cared, she prayed, she spoke the truth, and she was as sassy and as spunky as she could be. She was a verb no doubt! And although she may have appeared independent to everyone, she was more dependent on God than almost anyone I know.
One of the last Bible verses that Iesha wrote on my Facebook wall said, “Do not be afraid or discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9. Here was this tiny little girl that was born with greater struggles than most of you and I will ever know or understand. Here was one of God’s precious children that He had loaned to us for just a little while telling me on that day not to be afraid of the problems that were tiny compared to the obstacles that Iesha faced on a daily basis. But you see Iesha wasn’t afraid or discouraged of her obstacles. She measured the size of her obstacles against the size of her God and she knew that there was nothing to be afraid about.
As school teachers, many of us feel called to teach in the classroom. We may feel called to teach science or to teach English or many other courses. But what our students often don’t realize is that many of our students teach us. God uses those students that He places in that desk in our classroom to change our lives and teach us in ways that you can’t be taught from a textbook.
Iesha was one of those students that changed my life and taught me more than I’ll ever be able to teach any student about English or reading. And even today, Iesha is still teaching me. She is teaching me about what is really important in this life. This life isn’t about me. This life isn’t about what we can get for our own self or what we can accomplish. This life is about what we can accomplish for the glory of God. She accomplished more in her 20 years than many of us have accomplished in our long lives that we have been blessed to be given. She didn’t have to stand behind a pulpit to minister to me, to her other teachers, to her classmates, to people at her church, or to people she struck up a conversation with somewhere out and about. She was a servant and a minister in how she went about living her life each day. And she chose to live that kind of life every single day no matter where she was or what she was doing or what she was having to endure that day. She truly allowed the light of Christ to shine through her and bless others no matter where she was.
I have already missed all of the texts that Iesha sent out to me quite frequently. If you are on that list then I know you are giggling to yourself because you know exactly what I’m talking about! But even though I won’t be getting anymore texts from Iesha, I know that she is still in our corner and is cheering us on in this game of life that she wants us to play by winning souls for Jesus.
Just as she cheered on her brother, Todd, at all of his ballgames – she is also cheering each of us on to persevere and press on towards the goal for the prize that she has been given that we can all receive if we are open to it. I guarantee you that if she can look down from Heaven and see us that she is smiling and wants us to be happy and to continue to face our obstacles and be strong and be courageous, just as she was.
I know that now that Iesha is in Heaven, she is dancing and doing cartwheels and praising Jesus with every breath that she takes. She is free from pain and from struggling and from suffering. And if there are hot Cheetos in Heaven, I know she’s also eating them and licking her red stained fingers one by one just to get under my skin for all of the germs she’s consuming. I can see that sassy smile on her face and that little wink that she would be giving me if I could see her enjoying the life that she will enjoy in eternity with her Creator, her Maker, her Heavenly Father. And as I picture that smile of hers in my mind, it gives me a peace in my heart knowing that Iesha is Home.