Recently, I found myself thinking of a former high school English teacher. Leila McManus, a teacher at Paducah Tilghman, was known for her strong opinions, her quick wit, and the ability to make a classroom conversation interesting. Every year, on the last day of honors English class, she would call each student up and give them a prediction about what they would do in their future. As the years went by, I would occasionally think of what she had said to me that day. Like a small voice in the back of my head, her words would ring as a distant whisper. Were these words suggestions or expectations? Did she have an intuitive sense or did she just make the predictions based on the potential she saw? I also started wondering if other students had thought about her predictions. So I threw the idea out on Facebook.
Emily Framptom Taylor of Murrells Inlet, SC responded, “I think I still have the prediction on a note somewhere. It says, ‘You will get a PhD in Spanish and teach at Harvard.’ I have a Masters in Spanish and taught on the college level before moving to South Carolina.”
Amy Tate of Jackson, TN, said, “I was told I was going to be a teacher. I am only one semester away from teaching! It only took me twenty years.”
Thomas Garland of Hardin, KY responded, “Mrs. McManus told me that I would do extremely well in writing. I remember her having us write short stories. She would tell me to keep at it. I am sad it took me so long to see she was right. I will be graduating with my Bachelor of Fine Arts in December and then plan to apply to graduate school. I am trying to get published.”
Shannon Meriwether Livingston of Paducah shared, “I had her for homeroom. She was so mad at my messy handwriting and my refusal to write in cursive that she made me do elementary handwriting sheets my entire senior year. I have always thought highly of her for caring enough to make me work on my handwriting.”
After getting so many interesting responses I decided to see if I could find Mrs. McManus and after a short-term search and a few wrong numbers, I was overjoyed to eventually get an email from her. The next day we spoke for an hour on the phone.
“Why did you start doing predictions for your seniors?” I asked.
“Well, I suppose I started doing them to fill up some time at the end of the year. You know after grades are turned in those last couple of days before school is out, you don’t have much to do in class,” she replied.
“Tell me how you came up with the predictions that you gave your students,” I asked. “Were these just random predictions or do you have a strong intuition?”
"They were by observation. I had a whole year to observe. I had read things that they had written. Honestly, I had no idea that students looked forward to these predictions so much,” stated McManus. “Awhile back, I had a former student e-mail me saying that I had predicted that she would one day be an attorney. She wanted me to know that she indeed was. That was really the first I had heard of anyone remembering what I had predicted.” The woman she was referring to is actually a judge, The Honorable Jennifer Bryant Wilcox of Louisville.
“Many people had fond memories of your class, but could not remember their predictions. A couple of people did remember and confessed they had not come true. You predicted one would be the CEO of a major company and the other would be the President,’’ I reported.
“Those two have a great deal of life yet to live! You never know what the future could hold for them,” she laughed.
Leila McManus was an observer and a listener. She could shut out the noise of the world that filled her classroom and focus on the positive qualities of her students. Perhaps many, like me, took that attentive, observant interest to heart and, also like me, carried it with them into the future.
Carrie Owen Brown is the daughter of Dan and Cindy Owen of Paducah. She currently lives in Katy, TX with her husband and two little boys. She is an elementary music teacher and enjoys writing as a hobby.