What do you remember?
I remember a little something that each one of my public school teachers taught me, but I’ll admit I don’t remember all their names.
In kindergarten, Mrs. Devlin taught us “The Morning Song,” and we had to turn to our neighbor and shake hands. I did not want to shake yucky Wesley’s hand, and therefore turned up my nose and made a fuss. She took me aside and spoke to me gently but firmly about hurting his feelings, and why inclusion and kindness are important, and how would I feel if I was treated that way? She taught me about respect for others, and I am grateful.
In first grade, Mrs. Beck had the whole class make “get well” cards for me when I was out sick for an extended period of time. She had a little “welcome back” party for me when I returned to school. She taught me that I matter and that I was indeed missed, and I am grateful.
In second grade, my teacher had us stand up and tell jokes to the whole class on Fridays. When it was my turn, she let me become animated and disruptive, and she laughed heartily at the punchline which made the kids join in with rambunctious giggles. She taught me that humor is allowed, even in school, and I am grateful.
In third grade, my teacher soundly scolded the boys and told them to stop chasing and badgering us girls on the playground. He told them we did not “enjoy” that type of play. He taught me that it’s not okay to be terrified every day at recess; it’s wrong, even if I’m wearing a dress. And I am grateful.
In fourth grade, many of us took up a musical instrument, and Mrs. Tuz allowed me and Lynn DeCaro to practice our flutes on the step just outside the school (all by ourselves, unsupervised), once our work was finished. She taught me about rewards and trust, and I am grateful.
In fifth grade, Mrs. Carly invited us to her big house at the end of the school year for a fun class picnic. She opened her home for a whole day to a bunch of rowdy fifth graders. And she didn’t just sit in a lawn chair all day; she played with us. She taught me about generosity, and I am grateful.
In sixth grade, my social studies teacher had us make our huge, elaborate projects in school, under her close watch. Her room was a mess for weeks. She taught me that my own creativity and work are important, not that of my parents, and I am grateful.
In seventh grade, I got my period in school and my Spanish teacher pulled me aside and sent me to the nurse. She gave me her black cardigan sweater to wrap around my waist. She taught me about women supporting other women in a benevolent, kindred way, and I am grateful.
In eighth grade, my English teacher hammered home the rules regarding “their, they’re, and there,” “your versus you’re,” and “to versus too.” Also, “principal versus principle.” She taught me that sometimes a simple, unintended misuse of a word can change (for worse) the impression we make when we communicate through writing. She was relentless. She taught me to question my grammar and spelling. She taught me to edit and self-correct, and I am grateful.
In ninth grade, my Geometry teacher, Mr. Hibbard, gave us funny ways to remember how to solve equations. When I expressed to him, “Hey, I’m a girl; I’m just not good at math,” he said something like “Rubbish!” and made me learn anyway, dissolving that tired, old excuse. He taught me that ingrained doubt about our own abilities is a crutch, and I am grateful. But, I still hate math.
In tenth grade, my Chemistry teacher, Miss DeCristofaro, caught me cheating on an exam. I had written a few formulas on my book cover, which I kept on top of my desk. She called me up after class and then made me take a different test, with 20 points already deducted. She taught me about drama-free second chances, and to actually study next time, and I am grateful.
In eleventh grade, my tennis coach dropped me down from singles (a position I worked my ass off for) to doubles, without a compelling reason. He taught me that life isn’t always fair and that those in charge can change your place in a blink, if and when they feel like it. In doing so, he also taught me that I don’t have to “accept my place,” and I could move on, and so I did. For that, I am grateful.
During my senior year, my English teacher, Mrs. Stevens, taught me to believe in myself, because even though she was hard on me and ornery and tough as nails in general, she also believed in me. This was no small gift. Whenever I hesitate or fear that what I’m putting down on paper sounds juvenile or not as good as “real” writers, whenever I’m just not feeling talented or capable, or articulate, I hear her voice: “If there’s something you really want to say, find the words first, and then you’ll find the way.”
I’m still trying to be a writer, Mrs. Stevens. Thank you.