“Bye, babies.” A teacher’s death. A community’s grief.

Stacey Daniel

Stacey Daniel

My 13-year-old twins differ on many things. My son’s favorite meal is a burger. My daughter prefers sushi. When my son rushes to the computer, he’s checking on the Falcons. When my daughter goes online, she’s checking Facebook  He’s a math guy. She’s a language arts kid.

But there is one thing on which they agree: Stacey Daniel was their favorite teacher of all time at Renfroe Middle School in Decatur. And they were not alone in that. Hundreds of students in Decatur considered Ms. Daniel their most beloved teacher.

And they told us why last night — at a memorial service for Stacey Daniel, who died last week at the age 34 of heart-related problems.

Held at the high school, the two-hour program drew about 800 people. (Yes, I counted — that is one of the carryovers of years of covering rallies and meetings and having editors bark, “How many people were there?”)  Here is the AJC obituary.

If anyone doubts the power of a teacher, even a teacher in the classroom for only 10 years, to change lives, the testimony last night would have shattered that view. Twenty-two students and colleagues shared memories of Ms. Daniel. Five poets celebrated her in verse. The dance team honored her in movement. Choir members commemorated her in song.

And everyone cried.

The stories were extraordinary. Students talked about transferring to Renfroe Middle School midyear and feeling lost and alone until they met Ms. Daniel, who made sure they were included. Kids grief stricken from a death in their families were treated to Hawks games. She took girls out for ice cream and to the mall. Asked to send work to a student housebound with a broken leg, Ms. Daniel showed up in person with balloons, food and good books. And she kept visiting. One college student recalled a kind phone call from Ms. Daniel after her grandmother died.

Ms. Daniel handed out smiles and hugs in daily and generous doses.

Often times on this blog, posters complain about how overpaid public school teachers are. Ms. Daniel probably lost money every year she taught because of how much she spent on students in after-school and weekend activities.

Shy students said they were swept up by Ms. Daniel’s enthusiasm and her conviction that they could write poetry, read it aloud in in the annual Poetry Slam that she created and win a prize. A dozen students talked about how her encouragement and monitoring kept them on track. Several mentioned looking out from the basketball court or the stage and seeing Ms. Daniel beaming with pride in the crowd. She was the reason, they said, that they persisted with basketball or auditioned for the play. Several students called her their “guardian angel.”

A boy who admitted to creating ruckuses said Ms. Daniel sat him down and told him he was better than that, that he was capable of greatness. She repeated that message so often that he began to believe and act on it. Another boy she helped recalled how Ms. Daniel told him at the year’s end that if she ever had a son, she hoped he would be just like him.

Everyone cited her contagious joy. She joined in everything, including the teacher-student basketball game despite her lack of ball handling skills.  When Ms. Daniel finally made a basket last year, it was in the wrong goal. Her fans — that was everyone in the stands — cheered anyway.

I had an inkling of how unique Ms. Daniel was when my son came home with a book he had been wanting to read for weeks, but could never get to the library soon enough to check it out before someone else grabbed it. The book was brand new. “How did you get that?” I asked. “Ms. Daniel bought it for me to read and then give to the library,” he told me. And she did that again and again until he had read the entire series.

My daughter has always been an aspiring writer, but Ms. Daniel motivated her to do what writers must do every day: Write and rewrite. “Ms. Daniel wants me to enter this story in a contest,” my daughter would tell me and then disappear to her room for an hour to rework the piece.

Her colleagues talked about how Ms. Daniel prodded them to stay in graduate school or find time to connect with friends. They recalled her habit of leaving small gifts on their desks, fragrant cinnamon almonds, books for their students or her mother’s famous pound cake. Ms. Daniel baked birthday cakes for her colleagues.

I have known many fabulous teachers, but often they related best to certain students. There were teachers who connected with high achievers and others who could perform magic with struggling students.

What was amazing about Ms. Daniel was her effectiveness in relating to every variety, the straight A students, the indifferent ones and those at risk for failure. I cannot explain how she did it, but the students themselves talked about her ability to make them feel noticed, heard and understood. Ms. Daniel was renowned for wearing her high heels, and students said they would sit up straight when they heard that “click, clack” down the hallway, announcing her impending arrival in the classroom. Her homeroom always had a dozen extra students in the morning, kids who wanted to talk to her about their problems.

Many described her as a second mother. Her nickname was “Mama” Daniel, and she ended every class with “Bye, Babies.” On Fridays, she would dismiss them for the weekend with the admonishment, “No breaks. no bruises, no sprains.”

Somewhere, early in her career or, perhaps, instinctively, Ms. Daniel realized that, as one speaker said, “Children don’t care about what you know until they know that you care.”

Her life was her students. Ms. Daniel loved them, and they loved her. As I listened last night to all the young people talk about how Ms. Daniel enhanced their lives, I thought few of us can ever hope to leave such a legacy, to impact so many people in such positive and significant ways.

So, to the family of Stacey Daniel, my deepest sympathies. To her students, honor her memory by living up to her expectations.

And to all the teachers doing their best for their students under increasingly difficult conditions, thank you.

NOTE:

People have asked me if there is a scholarship fund set up in Ms. Daniel’s name. There is not, but there is this: The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, please send donations to a fund honoring the memory of Stacey Daniel through the Decatur Education Foundation. The donations will be used to honor the legacy and life’s work of Ms. Daniel, and specific details will be determined in the coming weeks.

Checks may be made payable to:

Decatur Education Foundation
200 Nelson Ferry Road, Suite B
Decatur, Georgia 30030
Memo: Stacey Daniel Memorial
Or you may donate online by clicking here and following the “Donate” link and typing  “Stacey Daniel Memorial” in the Comments or in Gift Designation text box.

-From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

48 comments Add your comment

catlady

November 6th, 2012
11:27 am

Amen and amen.

indigo

November 6th, 2012
11:31 am

“only the good die young”

Van Jones

November 6th, 2012
11:33 am

“So, to the family of Stacey Daniel, my deepest sympathies. To her students, honor her memory by living up to her expectations.”

Indeed!

DeKalbParent

November 6th, 2012
11:55 am

Thanks for this story.

Linda

November 6th, 2012
11:55 am

Good golly, Maureen! What a blessing Ms. Daniel was to her students and community. Thanks for the inspiring and emotional tribute.

Me

November 6th, 2012
12:17 pm

WOW…just WOW. This was sad and amazing at the same time. It was inspiring to read.

Top School

November 6th, 2012
12:23 pm

A divine life…that was all about what she had to give.
I, too loved this lady!
Thank you for writing this tribute to her.
She was an inspiration to everyone she touched.
I was blessed and honored to know her.
Rest my dear…rest.

Frankie

November 6th, 2012
12:25 pm

If and when a Scholarship in her name is created please let us know I will contribute.
after reading this story I went on line to search additional information about her and I feel like I know her.
This is a news story that needs to be shared with the entire world..

Ms. Daniels ……Thank You for your service and all that you have done

Goodforkids

November 6th, 2012
12:25 pm

So sad to lose her so young. Such an inspiring story to be better. Thanks for sharing and sorry to all who knew and loved her.

Frankie

November 6th, 2012
12:26 pm

@ Me, that’s exactly how I felt…

Beverly Fraud

November 6th, 2012
12:35 pm

I would say she was “value added” by REAL measure; the IMMEASURABLE impact she had on lives.

And to think the educational establishment would “define” her by test scores.

New Boo

November 6th, 2012
12:44 pm

Thank you Renfroe. The tribute was AMAZING!! I kew then, however I really know now that I was the one who was so blessed to have Stacey in my life for a short 8 months.
********** I lOVE YOU NEW BOO :) ) **********

Greg Kaiser

November 6th, 2012
12:45 pm

Thank you for sharing this with us, Maureen.

marm

November 6th, 2012
12:50 pm

Wow! Nothing more to say. Thanks Maureen, for sharing.

William Casey

November 6th, 2012
1:01 pm

Thanks for sharing this. The world is diminished by this loss.

skipper

November 6th, 2012
1:11 pm

“Well done, thou good an faithful servant!”

ssidawg

November 6th, 2012
1:11 pm

What a wonderful woman. Thanks for sharing what a positive impact she made. RIP Ms. Daniel.

Karen Moore

November 6th, 2012
1:53 pm

WOW..Such an inspiration. I hope she knew before she died how AWESOME she was. We tend to not tell people how much we love and appreciate them while they are here on earth, but we ALWAYS speak well of people when they can not hear how much we love them! She truly was an INSPIRATION and left a wonderful legacy!

Peter Smagorinsky

November 6th, 2012
2:05 pm

Maureen, thanks for this beautiful tribute to such an outstanding person and teacher. I hope that, as you urge, her students honor her memory by living up to her expectations.

Kat

November 6th, 2012
2:15 pm

I didn’t know her, but I sure wish that I had!

Emma

November 6th, 2012
2:19 pm

My daughter and goddaughter had her as a teacher and they were heart sticken when they heard the news. I couldn’t even finish reading the story because the tears were rolling to hard. They said she was one of the best teachers they ever had. Thanks Ms. Daniels for making an impact on all of our children’s lives. You will always be remembered by many…

Dr. Craig Spinks/ Georgians for Educational Excellence

November 6th, 2012
2:29 pm

RIP, Ms. Daniel.

Real American

November 6th, 2012
2:32 pm

RIP Ms. Daniel. A beautiful, wonderful soul.

Bob Howell

November 6th, 2012
2:36 pm

I am sorry I never had the opportunity to know this amazing woman! May she rest in peace with the Lord!

mike chambless

November 6th, 2012
2:39 pm

My grandmother said the only true way to measure a person’s greatness was by the positive change in the behavior of people they came in contact with. I’m not sure there could be a better description for Ms. Daniel. Hopefully her greatness will be an inspiration for countless of other young people for in whatever direction life takes them & whomever they come in contact with.

Regina

November 6th, 2012
2:52 pm

She left a wonderful legacy of love and learning. Thank you for sharing the story of this amazing woman and teacher!

TheGoldenRam

November 6th, 2012
3:06 pm

I didn’t know this lady, but I’ve known a few individuals like her that have passed. I truly believe that there is no better way to celebrate and honor the memory of these people than in how we live our lives. A legacy of dedication, respect and love is such a beautiful gift to leave to the world in which one has existed.

My mom put in 30+ years as an elementary school teacher. There were times when my CEO dad probably made more money in a single year than mom did over the course of her entire career. Both are great people and happily retired, but mom has a special ‘teacher’ legacy that is very distinct and unique. I think you really have to be close to a great teacher to truly understand how powerful that kind of thing can be. It transcends many of the common personal motivations that the rest of us put such great emphasis upon. That can come off as a type of social/political naivety, but I really believe that they are better teachers because they choose to live that way. It also explains so much of the education debate and illustrates our collective shame for putting many of these people in the ideological and political crossfire. Amongst all of the ongoing turmoil, there are so many awesome individuals that are honestly and diligently pursuing what they see as a higher calling. A desire to add value to the world that they inherited. And they really do make the world a much better place.

Thank you Ms. Daniel. For all of the good things you did when you were with us, and all the good things that will live on because you were with us.

Hey Teacher

November 6th, 2012
3:16 pm

Thank you for posting such a wonderful tribute.

Pride and Joy

November 6th, 2012
3:20 pm

I agree. Thanks for posting this wonderful tribute to a fabulous human being.
I’ve always heard Decatur schools were excellent and hearing the details about this teacher’s love for children and dedication to her work makes it easy to understand why these schools are so good.

indigo

November 6th, 2012
3:58 pm

From the first grade thru the twelveth, I never had a teacher like her.

This is a real and serious loss to Georgia education.

Grasshopper

November 6th, 2012
4:36 pm

The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour.

To lose one’s wealth is sad indeed,
To lose one’s health is more,
To lose one’s soul is such a loss
That no man can restore.

The present only is our own,
So live, love, toil with a will
Place no faith in tomorrow
For the clock may then be still.

Robert H. Smith

Another Teacher

November 6th, 2012
5:54 pm

Thank you for this beautiful tribute.

May she rest in peace.

Double Zero Eight

November 6th, 2012
5:56 pm

Thanks for this timely tribute about an outstanding
teacher and a caring individual.

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

November 6th, 2012
5:58 pm

She sounds like a wonderful woman, who touched many lives. What a loss for all of us.

Dwight

November 6th, 2012
6:36 pm

I am so moved by such a wonderful gift, taken away at such a young age. As an educator she has given me inspiration to want to do more for the young lives that I touch everyday. To the family, I am deeply sorry for your loss.

Thank you for a great news story

RCB

November 6th, 2012
7:18 pm

This is a very nice tribute, Maureen. She sounds like she was a wonderful teacher and person. It sounds so much like my 5th grade teacher, who realized I was so shy and really encouraged me that year. I’ve always had the fondest memories of her. Thanks for making me think today of all of my good teachers!

Ed Johnson

November 6th, 2012
7:58 pm

“The most important things cannot be measured; they don’t figures attached and never will.”

Without question, Teacher Stacey Daniel’s “babies” make this clear.

“Teacher Stacy Daniel” because she will keep teaching. Just watch.

Thanks, Maureen.

Susan Ely

November 6th, 2012
8:20 pm

Thank you for a beautiful tribute, Maureen. RIP Stacey.

Hannah

November 6th, 2012
8:27 pm

This is the kind of teacher I hope to become.

Cynthia Mitchell

November 6th, 2012
8:40 pm

I think I might have met her once – somewhere, but can’t remember. But it doesn’t matter. Feels like I knew her just as passionately as all of our mutual facebook friends. She was indeed a “wonder.” May she rest in peaceful splendor.

lakezh

November 6th, 2012
10:18 pm

Excellently and beautifully written, Maureen. My own daughter is at Renfroe. What a loss.

Janet

November 7th, 2012
3:11 am

Mrs. Daniel sounds like she was a beautiful person, inside and out. All kids should be so lucky to have a teacher like her. An Angel on earth… and now in heaven.

Gina

November 7th, 2012
8:57 am

Brit

November 7th, 2012
9:11 am

A beautiful tribute to a wonderful teacher. CSD have just posted a link to this on their FB page. I hope everyone involved with the school and Ms. Daniel gets to see it.

Maureen Downey

November 7th, 2012
11:39 am

@To all, People have asked me if there is a scholarship fund set up in Ms. Daniel’s name. There is not, but there is this:

The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, please send donations to a fund honoring the memory of Stacey Daniel through the Decatur Education Foundation. The donations will be used to honor the legacy and life’s work of Ms. Daniel, and specific details will be determined in the coming weeks.

Checks may be made payable to:

Decatur Education Foundation
200 Nelson Ferry Road, Suite B
Decatur, Georgia 30030
Memo: Stacey Daniel Memorial
Or you may donate online by clicking here and following the “Donate” link and typing “Stacey Daniel Memorial” in the Comments or in Gift Designation text box.

Ainslie

November 7th, 2012
5:21 pm

This article is almost as beautiful as the service was. Thanks for tributing the best teacher I ever had.

Laura

November 8th, 2012
1:17 pm

I did not know Ms. Daniel, and I do not have children. This was a beautiful insight into her life and those she worked with. It brought me to tears. Thank you so much for letting me get to know her through your tribute. I am sorry to her family, her friends, and our community for the loss of this incredible woman.

Dr. Ameena Ali

November 12th, 2012
10:06 am

As I sit it total and utter thanksgiving for this soul, I can’t help but wonder what would have come of her if she were to have kept living! This is the very reason that I spew this reminder to each and everyone that is listening: Please believe that this day is NOT promised us; please make EVERY effort to be important in the life of a child! She made her mark in 34 years; it will take some of us that long to realize our worth. But I ask you, in that time, in that way and in that availability, please, touch the life of a child and infect a dignity that you will be known for. She was a mighty soul and one that I’m glad to have read about! Until we meet again, kind soul…