“Over here is where we put finished homework! And this is a graph of who has brother and sisters, who only has sisters, and who only has brothers! This is a picture I drew of myself, and this book is all about me!” Dorothy raced from one side of the classroom to the other, eager to share with us all she could about what she was doing and learning at school. I watched her teacher smile and laugh. The pleasure shone in her eyes, I could see how much she loved teaching. We have had her for three years in a row now. Elizabeth had her for kindergarten and first grade, and now Dorothy has her for first grade. What a difference I noted from my first grade horror.
My teacher was older, crotchety, rather plump and seldom smiled. Looking back now, I think she had lost the love of teaching. Her name was Mrs. Falbo, and she had suffered years of abuse as insensitive students had called her Mrs. Fatbo. I’m sure they never called her that to her face, but I am also sure she had heard talk in the halls and cafeteria. The assignment was to color a picture of pink pigs. I was so careful to be sure to use realistic colors, as this teach would never approve of something like Technicolor pigs in a world of green sky and blue grass. I tried so hard to stay in the lines; my fingers ached with tension as I controlled the small crayon. When I had finished, it was practically perfect, I had only crossed the boundaries once or twice in my efforts to color the perfect picture.
Always excited to please I brought my picture to my teacher with all the fervor of a 6-year-old seeking the encouragement only an adult could give. I sucked in as she took the picture from my hand, her frown deepening into the furrows of her face. “You colored outside the lines.” Her voice was matter-of-fact; an essence of ‘I don’t care’ hung around her words as she crumpled up my paper in front of my eyes and tossed it in the trash can. “Do it again.”
I bit back tears as I heard the snickers from other kids in the class. I wouldn’t let her see me cry, not ever. Crying was for sissies and wimps. I didn’t tell my mom about it for a long time. And she began to wonder why I hated school, and why over the next two years my grades continued to plummet.
At one point I switched schools and stepped back a grade. That is when I found the teacher that would change my life forever. Her name was Mrs. Trinch and she taught 3rd grade. My mom spent hours working with me and catching me up to where I needed to be, tutoring me after school, but Mrs. Trinch was the one that taught me learning could be fun. She taught us to spell e-n-c-y-c-l-o-p-e-d-i-a to the song in “Pinocchio” because it was such a long word, it would impress everyone with how smart we were. I still remember her placing her hands down on the chalkboard with her back to us and wiggling her bum to the rhythm as she chanted, “You change the ‘y’ to and ‘i’ and you add ‘es’!” I remember getting the first ‘A’ in math ever, as my poorest subject turned to one of my strongest. I had hated reading until her class when she opened my eyes to the wonders contained in the most exciting books. It was then I realized that I wanted to be a teacher.
When I reached middle school we had moved across the country to Oregon. In 7th and 8th grade I discovered another teacher that would open a new love in my life. She taught us language arts and focused a lot on creative writing. I never knew much about writing stories, though I often had them rolling around in my head. She discovered my writing and encouraged me to write stories, and inspired in me a love to write. Her name was Ms. Mac and she is still teaching, though this year she is taking a break working in the district office. I saw her at the beginning of the year, and told her that because of her, I still write.
Over the years I have encountered many good, and a few more bad, but there are only a few that have left a mark on me that will last through the years.
I once heard a parent say that most children are resilient and can survive even the worst teachers. I thought about that, I survived, but only with my mom’s help, and because she took an active role in changing my atmosphere. Last night as I talked with the girls teachers and watched their excitement in their classrooms, showing me every little thing they could. I smiled inside. Seeing them so happy makes me happy that they are enjoying a far better start than I did. It makes me grateful for the teachers that made a difference in my life, and for the teachers that are making, and will make, a difference in my children’s lives.