Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Turning-point Teacher


Today I would like to celebrate a teacher that made a difference in my life. I am rarely this sappy, but as the school year begins I am reminded of the reasons why I do what I do and love teaching so much. My hope is that one day my students will be able to look back and feel the same way about me as I do about this stellar teacher from my youth.

Growing up in a small town, our teachers were often a part of our lives in and out of the classroom. This particular teacher lived in a little blue house, around the corner from my childhood home. Her yard was perfectly manicured and her driveway flanked with pristine white rose hedges. When I found out that she was going to be my teacher I was a bit nervous. I had seen her out in her "perfect" yard with her boys every Saturday. She always made them work until everything completed, even in the hot, sweltering sun. Slacking was not allowed and they could not come play unless all of their chores were done. I also knew that she ate apples in their entirety, core, stem, seeds, and all. Needless to say I was quite anxious on the first day of school, thinking that nothing short of perfection would be acceptable to her and at this time in my life I was far from perfect. I still remember entering the room and trying to find my seat, hoping that it was in the very back of the room. Of course, that wasn't the case, but little did I know that this was truly the place that I needed to be and that it was intentional on her part. What I found out, later in life, was that she had learned about something that was the mortar to a wall I was building as a child.  The previous spring I had been informed, through a cousin in spite, that my father was gay and had contracted HIV. I had never known why my parents divorced when I was so young, but when my mom confirmed the facts I shut down. I didn't know how to cope with or express what I was feeling.  I was confused, I was angry, I was scared, and as a child of the eighties I didn't feel like I could talk to or share this with anyone. Throughout the school year this teacher was intentional in her interactions with me and slowly the wall came down. She never talked to me about what was going on in my life, but her kindness, compassion, and endless encouragement made me feel safe again. Under her tutelage I learned that writing was the lifeline that I so desperately needed. She taught me to journal, to create imaginary places to which I could escape, and process my emotions in a reflective way. That school year, which in the beginning I dreaded, turned out to be the year I became a passionate writer.  This teacher still lives in the little blue house, around the corner from my mom. Her rose hedges are not quite as perfect as they once were, but she will always be the teacher who taught me the freedom that comes in putting a pen to paper.

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