A teacher’s kind gesture gift-wrapped in encouraging words put Silken Laumann on a path that led to an Olympic medal.
“I had learning challenges growing up, particularly around reading,” said Laumann, who overcame a horrific injury to win a bronze medal in the women’s single sculls at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. “There didn’t seem to be a plan in place at the time for kids like me.”
These are the kind of stories highlighted in the Black Press’ Great Teachers series this spring, run in partnership with Staples and supported by Camosun College.
For Laumann, her future was shaped by a fateful visit by her teacher, Mrs. Finlayson of Lorne Park public school, to Laumann’s house in Mississauga, Ont.
Laumann had failed Grade 3.
“It was one of those moments. She brought a box of Laura Secord chocolates and I remember her saying that everyone was good at something and I would find what I was good at for me,” Laumann said. “It really had an impact.”
Speaking about the work teachers do is a “super big subject for me,” Laumann underlined.
Two of her four children have dealt with learning issues, including a stepdaughter with autism.
Another daughter who has dyslexia has just been accepted to Harvard University, where she plans to study science and humanities.
“I have relied heavily on the passion and dedication of teachers in the public and private systems championing my kids through school,” she noted.
The experiences of having four children in four different schools has significantly broadened Laumann’’s perspective for the work teachers do.
“More importantly, it’s given me an appreciation for the range of different learning styles teachers employ.
“Kids aren’t one size fits all,” Laumann said. “Teachers are always adapting to the different learning needs of their students.”
Two elements of what teachers do derived from her own challenges in school have left lasting impressions on Laumann.
“Because I struggled, I had to work really hard. I was in remedial everything and had to put in a lot extra time,” Laumann recalled. “The teachers cared that much to be there for me before and after school. The realization that I got though school because of the extra time teachers put in outside of the classroom is one of the reasons why I try to be so generous with my time.”
Her work as a strategic life coach and motivational speaker has taken Laumann all over the world.
“I often get to speak to teachers at conferences,” she said. “I love them as an audience because of the big impact they had on my life.”
Laumann is a regular contributor to magazines, newspapers and other media. She also wrote a book, Unsinkable, in 2014.
The deadline to share your story about a teacher that has left a lasting impression on you or someone you know is May 14. To nominate a teacher go to Saanichnews.com/contests, Victoria News, Goldstream Gazette, Oak Bay News or Peninsula News Review.