News and Insights

Coffee and Green Ink

March 16, 2022

No matter how briefly their paths intersect with ours, teachers have the ability to profoundly shape who we become later in life. This was the case with one of my most powerful role models, an elementary school teacher I knew as Mrs. Mattoon.

She taught a variety of subjects to a small group of students, and her classes were anything but ordinary. When we studied the Dust Bowl, she had us taste coffee grounds so we would know what it was like for children of the time who had no food. When we started a unit on long division, she engineered a competition for who could create the longest long-division problem, taping ever more pieces of paper together to create a thrilling reverse stairstep of math.

She introduced us to grounding techniques (though she didn’t call them that) for mental health. She brought logic grid puzzles into my life and nurtured my excitement for using my brain to untangle intangible knots. She had wild red hair and always used the same exact type of green ballpoint pen. And she gave me my first—and last—C on a project. It was her way of acknowledging how much more I had to offer.

I haven’t seen Mrs. Mattoon in two decades, but in a way she is omnipresent in my life. Every time I breathe deeply or melt into child’s pose to counteract anxiety. Every time I set about trying to deeply understand an audience for a piece of marketing collateral. Every time I do math to verify reported carbon emissions figures. She was there when I architected a complicated email nurture campaign by sitting on the floor by my desk, drawing on a miniature whiteboard, and rearranging and taping together dozens of pieces of paper. She’s there when I need reminding that it’s okay to be bold, to be unusual, to be confident.

And, of course, she’s there every time I use a green pen.