by Sharla Fritz

My third-grade year started out rather ominously. One day our teacher wasn’t at the front of the classroom. Our eight-year-old brains didn’t grasp exactly what a cancer diagnosis meant, but we did understand that Mrs. Harris wasn’t coming back.

We continued learning cursive writing and multiplication tables from a string of substitutes who flowed through the classroom. But everything changed when Miss Marquardt stepped through the door. Miss Marquardt had a different style of teaching. We still learned three times three equaled nine and how to loop a perfect S. But this teacher also encouraged our creativity. We made dioramas and performed silly skits. We wrote stories and created our own picture books.

When third grade ended, I regretted having to leave Miss Marquardt’s classroom. Thankfully, by the end of the school year, my mother and Miss Marquardt had become acquainted through our church. My favorite teacher began showing up at our dinner table and at family events.

Somehow, this teacher/family friend took an interest in ordinary me. Her simple act of noticing me made me feel special. And a shy, quiet girl began to bloom under her attention.

When I played the piano, she sat through halting performances of hymns. Surely no one listening to me play would have guessed I would go on to major in music and become a piano teacher. But Miss Marquardt continued to cheer me on, urging me to play one more piece or sing one more song. In my teen years I started taking organ lessons and she was still there, buying me organ books and driving me to organ festivals. Her unwavering faith in me gave me a confidence that I would not have possessed otherwise.

Years later, when I was married with kids of my own, I went back to my hometown to visit my parents. And Faye (as Miss Marquardt now told me to call her) showed up at my mother’s door. In the years that had passed, Faye had become my friend as well as my mother’s. And I needed the perspective of an older, wiser woman because I was struggling with a weighty decision: Should I homeschool my children? I was hesitant to bring it up with my old teacher, thinking that she, as a professional educator, would not view homeschooling in a positive light.

But, true to Faye’s encouraging nature, her words gave me the assurance to move ahead. Her few words, “Your children would be blessed to have you as their teacher” inspired me to take on the daunting task of home education.

As I look back, I see that Miss Marquardt had the qualities of a true encourager. She used the tools of praise and support to reach across the generation gap between us. As a result, I often sought out her advice over the words of friends my age. Looking at her example, I see a few ways we can all become true encouragers to those younger (or older) than us.

True encouragers notice others’ gifts and nurture them. Certainly, my piano playing in grade school was nothing to indicate a professional music career, but Miss Marquardt watered the little seeds of my talent with streams of positive reinforcement and drops of suggestions for improvement.

True encouragers go beyond what is expected. I grew up in a very supportive home and my parents came to every piano recital and choir concert, but perhaps their support wasn’t as influential as Faye’s simply because parents are expected to support their kids. Faye didn’t have to and did it anyway.

True encouragers are like an intravenous dose of confidence. An hour with Miss Marquardt always left me with the feeling that I could do anything I set out to do. Doubts were obliterated by the infusion of her positive feedback.

Little did I know that my life would change for the better when Miss Marquardt stepped into my grade school classroom. I would never have guessed that this amazing teacher would not only guide me through third grade but mentor me for years. May we all have true encouragers that soak our lives with confidence, people that notice our little gifts and water them until they grow.

And may we be the kind of people who look for those kernels of talent and nurture them. May we infuse confidence into the lives of our family, neighbors, and that mom of three preschoolers that sits in the pew ahead of us. The world is a better place when filled with true encouragers.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Sharla Fritz is a Christian author and speaker who weaves honest and humorous stories into life-changing Bible study. Author of God’s Relentless Love: A Study of Hosea, Sharla writes about God’s transforming grace. Sharla lives in the Chicago suburbs with her amusing pastor husband. Connect with Sharla at