Posts Tagged ‘teachers’

“It’s my time to go.”

Posted: March 28, 2013 in Writing
Tags: ,

“No it’s not,” I said and squeezed her hand.

“Yes, it is and I’m ready.”

“I’m not,” I said and brushed her hair away from her forehead.

Even at her very old age, her eyes were still crystal clear and a beautiful shade of blue. They really were piercing and I had not looked into them for too many years to count.

She had been my 5th and 6th grade teacher over 30 years ago and even then, I remembered her as old. I was 10 years old when I first met her. She was old-fashioned, kind and strict. The thought of talking back to her never entered your mind. You learned in her classes. You sat up straight. You said “Yes ma’am” and you turned your homework in on time.

When you received an “A+” you knew you had earned it. The same with a “C-.” Each and every piece was returned with her markings from her red pencil. You knew by her comments that it had been thoroughly read and critiqued.

She missed nothing.

She was my salvation when the math teacher I had decided she hated me and began her 2-year cycle of bullying me and another girl.

It was Mrs. Aronson who stepped in when she could. It was Mrs. Aronson who spoke-up and tried to stop it. It was Mrs Aronson who would tell me not to listen.

It was Mrs. Aronson who convinced me to write.

When she asked me to stay after class one afternoon, I gulped and nodded while I held my breath. I couldn’t think about what I had done wrong and tried to ignore the giggles of my classmates as they chanted “Susan’s in trouble! Susan’s in trouble!”

One look from her and they shut-up and scurried out the door.

I slowly walked up to her desk and waited until she looked up at me. She smiled and asked me to sit down. She was holding my paper in her hand. I racked my brain trying to remember what I had written and why I was in trouble.

I sat down and waited. Each second felt like a week while I watched her read it again. I could see some red marks on it. I was suddenly convinced that it was so bad, she was going to kick me out of her class. The fact that she couldn’t do that was beside the point. I had finally crossed some unknown line that kids aren’t supposed to cross.

I had written something that was bad and it was going to get me into trouble.

She turned and looked at me as she handed me my paper. I took it in my hand. The paper shook. I looked down and read her notes on it.

They were praising it. She commented on what she liked, along with her corrections on my grammar and sentence structure.

She had given me an “A+” and I thought it was a joke.

I looked up at her. She was smiling.

“Where did you learn to do this?” she asked.

“Do what?”

“Tell stories. Is this story true?”

“Yes!” I said. “This really is what happened on our vacation and my brother Jeff really did throw-up all over me in the back seat of the station wagon. My Dad was driving…”

“It’s OK, I believe you,” she said and chuckled. “I read your story and it’s wonderful.”

I nodded my head. I no longer felt as if I was going to vomit.

“You still need to work on your grammar, but that will come in time. But I want you to promise me something.”

“Anything,” I said. I loved her and always had.

“Promise me you’ll always write.”

“Who? Me?”

She laughed and put her hands on top of mine and pulled them towards her. “Yes, you,” she said and held them tight for a moment and then let go.

“Ummm….”

“No, you do NOT say ‘Ummmm.” That is not the proper way to speak. You either say “Yes” or “No.”

“Yes,” I said.

“Good. Now go home and I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said and began grading lessons. I got up and walked home, stunned.

Thirty years later, I saw her at a park. I recognized her immediately and felt a huge smile cross my face.  She could barely walk and someone was holding her hand as they walked around the lake. I stopped and just watched her for a moment and then walked up to her.

The woman she was with turned around and smiled. She tapped Mrs. Aronson on the shoulder and she stopped walking. I held out my hand and told her who I was. We looked at each other for a moment. Her hair was still in a bun, she was wearing the same perfume and she had her gloves on because that was the proper way for a woman to dress when she was outside.

She was very frail , but she was walking around the lake anyway.

“You probably don’t remember me, but I wanted to tell you how much you helped me.”

The woman with her hugged me. She was her great-great granddaughter.

I could see she was reading my lips. She smiled and nodded and took my hands in hers. “Yes, I remember you. Your eyes haven’t changed. Are you still writing?”

Her question floored me. “No, I never really…”

“You must,” she said. “You promised me you would, didn’t you?” she said and raised her eyebrow.

I was suddenly back in her class.

“Yes ma’am, I did.”

“You are not the type of person to break promises,” she said.

That’s all she needed to say.

“I will start right away,” I said and looked down and kicked some dirt.

“You start tonight, you hear me?” she said.

I kept looking at my shoes.

“Yes ma’am,” I said.

“Good,” she said and chuckled. She put her hand under my chin and lifted my face to hers.

“I don’t have much time left and I always wondered about you and how you turned out. I’m glad I got to see that you turned out just fine,” she said.

“Yes I did,” I said.

“I’ll be gone soon. I’m ready.”

I wasn’t. I had just found her again. I still heard her voice telling me I was good enough, that I could write, that I must write no matter what, that I didn’t deserve to be bullied.

It has always been her voice in me that kept me going, through unbearable heartache and loss, through all the rejection.

It’s her voice I hear when I make a typo or write a sentence wrong.

I cringe and fix it because she believed in me and loved me and cared about me enough to push me and never accepted a reason why it couldn’t be done.

She saw the best in all of us and never accepted anything less.

And that’s what we gave her. Our best because we knew she was right. No matter where we went or what happened to any of us, she forced us to know we were good and worthy.

It’s her voice I hear that I can do it and I will do it.

She’s the reason I teach.

She’s the reason I write.

She’s the reason that teaching is a noble profession and no one can take that away from me.

She is who I write for.

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She spent two years trying to kill me emotionally and spiritually and to this day, I still don’t know why. But I know she tried and failed.

It was in the 5th and 6th grade when this happened. The school I was going to was right down the street from me and all of us students knew each other. We all lived within walking distance and were all friends for the most part.

There were always new students coming and going, but being female and of the age where what others thought of me defined who I was, I didn’t always get to know the “new kids” simply because I had so many friends that I had grown up with.

The school decided that since we were going to be attending Junior High soon, they would acclimate us to having to move from one class to another rather than having only one teacher for the entire day.

This bothered me because I loved my teacher, Mrs. Aronson. She was VERY old since she was probably in her 60’s and I was 10 but I loved her and she had been the only teacher I had known since first grade.

But the “Powers That Be” wanted us to learn how to go from classroom to classroom and have all of our materials with us, so the journey began and I was put in a Math class with a teacher called Mrs. McDougal.

The moment I saw her, I froze. She was much younger than Mrs. Aronson and very pretty. She dressed sharply and had the most beautiful hair I had ever seen. It was straight where mine was curly. She was thin and I was approaching puberty and starting to have very strange things happen with my body.

She stood at the front of the class and glared at us. She then did roll call and quickly rearranged where we were to sit. She didn’t know most of us and I had never seen her before, but she pointed her finger at me and said “Susan, come over and sit right here,” which was the first seat in the first row, closest to her desk. I got up, grabbed my books and sat down. She then pointed to another girl, whom I didn’t know, and had her sit next to me. Her name was Donna. Once Donna sat down, Mrs. McDougal sneered at us and then looked at the class.

“This is where the stupid people sit,” and then laughed.

I didn’t understand what she meant and Donna and I looked at each other. When it dawned on me that she was referring to both of us, I felt my face turn red and the tears sting my eyes. Donna had the same reaction and we said nothing and could hear the other kids laughing at us.

For the next 2 years, she picked on us. I never said a word to my parents because I thought she was right because she’s a teacher and teachers know everything, right?

Plus I then became convinced that I was stupid and I didn’t want anyone to know. My brothers had always called me that and I gave as good as I got, but that’s just sibling’s doing what we do – tease each other and then be friends again.

But now I had someone, an ADULT, telling me at least twice a week how stupid I was. Sometimes she would call Donna and I up to stand in front of the class and point to us and say “This is what a stupid person looks like” and then have us sit down again.

I can just hear you, the reader, shaking your head and wondering why I didn’t say anything. Well, if you don’t know why, then maybe you don’t understand what it’s like for girls at that age and how vulnerable we are. You might not understand or remember what an adult’s words can do to a child.

They are worse than bullets and do much more damage. This is the reason I will always believe what a child tells me. Always, no matter what.

I somehow made it through her class after 2 years, but to this day, I have never been good at math. My parents hired a tutor for me and for a while, it got better. I can figure other things out and my IQ is high enough, but I will always consider the day that calculators were developed to be a holy day for me.

Years later, when I was married, I said something about this to my husband. To say he went sideways is an understatement. Up until that point, “me being a stupid person” was something I felt shameful about and was always afraid someone would find out. It took a lot of talking with him to pull the whole story out of me.

When I told my Mom about it, she almost cried. She had no idea and if she had, she would have been down at that school, told them what was going on and had me pulled out of that class. She understood why I never said anything but I suspect that it has never set right with her. It wasn’t a matter of trust in talking about it. That was not why I hadn’t said anything.

It’s a matter of shame regardless if it’s misplaced or not. If you believe it, then it’s true for you. All other points of view are not valid. What you think and believe about yourself is what matters.

Ironically, what happened to me is something that I value because it has made me very good at my job. I teach and I know what it’s like to learn something new and be confused and yes, somewhat stupid until you master it. It takes the right materials and the right person to guide you through it.

It takes someone who knows what it’s like to feel stupid and to understand that you aren’t stupid – you just don’t know something.

As an aside, after I told my husband about it, he asked me if I knew where she had lived. I did as it was right down the street from my old childhood house. He got a wicked look in his eye and asked me if I wanted to go visit Mrs. McDougal. I said I did, so we jumped into the car and drove over there.

I stood on the sidewalk and looked at the house. It had been many years since I had been there and I was convinced that she had either moved away or hopefully died. We walked up the steps and rang the doorbell. I held my breath.

She answered the door and at first, I wasn’t sure it was her. She had not aged gracefully, which made me feel better. Her skin was badly wrinkled, she was no longer attractive and her hair was the same. I then realized that the hair I had envied for so long had always been a wig.

I asked if she was Mrs. McDougal and she hesitated for a moment. She was hunched over and was wearing a dirty robe even though it was late afternoon. She nodded her head and for half a second, I felt sorry for her but that was all.

Here was a woman who was evil. God knows what other lives she had destroyed.

I told her who I was and it did not register with her. That pissed me off. I explained that she was one of the worse human beings I had ever had the displeasure of knowing and that there was no excuse for what she had done to me and Donna.

When I said Donna’s name, I saw the light go on in her eyes. My husband was standing next to me and never said a word but glared at her.

“Oh, you remember, don’t you?” I asked. She stood motionless.

“Well, I wanted you to know that you didn’t succeed. I am fine and I turned out to be a really good person, despite your efforts to kill me. But if I ever see you again…” I said and let the sentence hang in the air. She nodded. We turned around and walked away. She didn’t close the door until we had driven off.

I hope she’s still awake, waiting for me to come back.