I remember Sister M in first grade. She used a ruler to smack my hand as it lay on the desk. It was the end of the day. Everyone sat at their desks talking while waiting for the bell to ring. I had my hand on my desk and was turned around talking to someone behind me. The room was quiet. We were all talking in hushed tones. I remember that. And I remember the sting of the smack. I don’t think she even gave me a reason ‘why’. I remember looking up at her. All I knew was that I wasn’t looking forward to see her standing there, and my hand got smacked. I remember tears in my eyes. Not so much from the physical pain but from the humiliation of why was I singled out?
I remember Mrs. R standing in front of our religion class. Asking us us where is, or when is, the only place or time you do not say the rosary. I sat in my chair pleading silently in my head “please don’t let it be during mass please don’t let it be during mass”. Sure enough the answer was-you do not say the rosary during mass. Then, and now, I could see my father sitting at the end of the pew with his rosary in hand saying the rosary. Every single mass. I thought he was doomed.
I remember Mrs. F teaching us to make apple dolls. And picking me out to be the one who climbed on top of the closet to get or put away her supplies where they were stacked and stored. I hid in that closet once after school to scare her. But another teacher came in to her classroom while I was in the closet and I was afraid to jump out with a ‘boo’. I think I fell asleep because I was suddenly aware of how quiet it was. I opened the door and came out of the closet. She was sitting at her desk and very worried about me because I must have been in there awhile.
A different Sister M in high school lamented to me about my very tiny handwriting. She told me she had to use a magnifying glass to read my work. I never wrote any bigger for her. I liked that she had to use a little extra effort to ‘see me’.
I remember Mr. T telling us about his worst students. The absolute worst was a girl. He asked her one day why she was so bad. She told him he’ll forget all of the good students because they’ll start to run together. But he’ll remember her. He laughed telling us the story because she had been right. He did remember her, fondly it seemed.
I remember Mr. K talking to me before a school play. I wasn’t in the play but helped with the lighting crew. Someone had told him I was upset about something. He went looking for me, found me, talked to me. He told me he knew how I felt (he didn’t) and knew what I was upset about (he was wrong) and he wanted me to be okay. Even though he was wrong on both counts he looked for me to cheer me up and make sure I was okay.
I remember Mr. H being playful and funny. He seemed unstressed by how he ‘should’ be, or what was expected of him. His demeanor was natural and pleasant. Easy to listen to.
I remember Mr. L who gave extra time-as many of them did-to be involved in activities with the students. Building, creating, learning with our hands and eyes. He would buy us dinner if we worked hard. He taught by letting us do things ourselves, and humor.
One teacher taught me unfairness. One taught me things aren’t always what they seem. One taught surprises. One was a surprise.
One taught me kindness. One taught me tolerance. One taught me patience, which is not the same as tolerance.
One taught me what “facetious” means.
One taught me words though not necessarily how to use them.
The wonderful thing about the teachers in my life is how I look back at them from today. Not to devalue what it was they were entrusted to teach but what they taught doesn’t seem as important now as to who they were. Especially now, as I look back and see the magnitude of who they were as people. Teachers. Mentors. Guides. Instructors. There was no ‘one’ teacher who was everything to every lesson I ever learned. Each teacher in my life was part of a conglomerate. Each part of each thing I learned adding up to form the knowledge that is now compiled, compressed, and oft times forgotten and lodged into some place labeled ‘of little use’ in my head.
I don’t know who taught me specifically to add one plus one. Or to spell d-o-g. I know for a fact that I never truly grasped proper grammar and sentence structure. In fairness to the teachers I don’t hold them responsible for that. I can’t remember who taught me first about the constitution or my primary colors. But I remember things about the people who were in my life to teach me. Even though I may have struggled to learn, or possibly couldn’t learn, what was trying to be taught. It doesn’t mean I didn’t take a lesson away from most of my teachers if not all of them. Some of those lessons may not have been understood for years if not decades after they were taught. Nothing wrong with a lesson that never ends. That’s a pretty good teacher, that is.
My teachers were not always in a classroom. Many, many of my teachers in life never stepped foot inside a classroom as a teacher. They taught none the less.
I’ve got thanks a plenty for the teaching I’ve been on the learning end of in my life. But I’d still like to know why I got smacked by that ruler.