SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - In a television news career loaded with nearly three decades of unscripted surprises on the final week of school for many C.E. Byrd High School students and teachers — I scripted one in honor of long-time educator Nancy Yoder.
"She loves you, Doug. She talks about you all the time," remarks one of a handful of teachers who accompanied me along with Principal Jerry Badgely for our surprise visit to Nancy's classroom.
"This is what 30 years of teaching looks like, right there," announced Nancy just seconds after our class interruption was greeted with a warm, welcoming hug.
And for the 10th graders in her English class, our visit gave them a window into her past.
"She was my high school journalism teacher," I explained to the students as we promptly began our trip down memory lane — passing around a 1986 DeRidder High yearbook.
"Oh my gosh, that's Mrs. Yoder!" said a student.
"When I went to school and first started teaching, I was always told don't smile until after Christmas, " Nancy said. "And that just doesn't work for me. I'm usually laughing out loud by the second day over something."
Nancy felt it was important for her students — then and now — that you can learn while having a good time.
"I feel like I've always been enthusiastic and loved teaching. I put my heart my heart into it. I love what I do," added Nancy.
I also shared with the class how, on this day, I mark the third time I've told Nancy 'goodbye'.
"I go on a job interview in Oklahoma City and I see this face that looks familiar and I hear 'Douglas Warner,'" explaining how in 2003 when Nancy was working at the same CBS affiliate. I worked there for six years.
"Lives overlap," she said, smiling. "I think of Thornton Wilder in the play, 'Our Town', when he says that some of our most insignificant moments are really significant and we don't recognize it until the time has passed."
After two years of working together at KWTV News 9, Nancy returned to the classroom in Oklahoma City for a few years before settling once again in her home state of Louisiana and returning to Byrd High School.
"I could go down the hall and she'd be in the corner and all the younger teachers would be flocked around her," Principal Badgely said.
"I jokingly called her the den mother," Principal Badgely said. "She was just helping take care of what I affectionately called kids because they're our young teacher."
In 2009, I returned to Shreveport to continue my journalism career at KSLA News 12, which brings us to our third goodbye over the course of three decades.
"Seriously, I hope you all realize how special you are and what a joy it's been to teach you," she said to the students seconds before the final bell rang.
As for the next teacher to take over Nancy's vacated classroom, she's leaving behind something much more valuable than a leftover box of supplies to start the school year. She's sharing the best advice possible.
"That it's OK to laugh before Christmas," she said. "Enjoy it, and have fun."