Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Tribute to Great Teachers

For some reason I started thinking about my childhood and the teachers that held me to a higher standard, and by doing so, made me believe I was special.

My Father
I grew up in a "financially challenged" home. My father raised me and my two sisters, and now that I have 3 kids of my own, I realize how difficult it must have been for him to have done that alone. He worked long hours, and sometimes multiple jobs. The most time I spent with my father was when I joined his construction crew during my summer vacations. Sometimes money was so tight that our crew consisted of just me and my father. It's hard for me to picture it now, but I was in my pre-teen years helping my dad pour concrete. I can't imagine how my son would handle that situation. I earned $1 a day for my work, but truth be told it was rare that I actually received my wages. There weren't many moments that people might call quality father-son time, but I learned a lot about life during those summers. First and foremost, never work for free. All joking aside, I credit my father for my work ethic, and I try to honor his sacrifices by making a better life for myself and my family.
Photo of College Street Elementary
(I spent most of my elementary school years here)

Mrs. Maxwell
I am naturally outgoing, and in elementary school this helped me to land the lead part in the school play, Pinocchio Jones. My biggest fan was my music teacher, Mrs. Maxwell. She would ask me how I learned to sing and dance so well. It made me feel like a star. It's interesting to reflect on how much I enjoyed performing for a crowd back when I was that young. Being funny was a way to get attention, and I worked hard at being funny.

I was feeling pretty good about myself when I moved into middle school. I was what kids would call "popular" in sixth grade. I decided to join band and became first chair rather quickly. After two months we moved to a different part of town, and I joined a new school. The second school I attended had a band teacher that did everything she could to keep me from excelling in her class. she was the bizarro-teacher to my super-teachers. I'm sure everyone has had a bizarro-teacher in their lives. I put up with her for a couple of months but eventually I got tired of it, so I quit band. The following week we moved again.

(My old middle school is now a 9th grade only school)

My third school was Milliken. Most of the students around me came from middle to upper-middle class families. I was surrounded by students wearing brand named clothes, and I watched them get picked up by their parents in expensive cars while I walked home in my Wal-Mart duds and Payless shoes. I learned quickly that kids who wear ProWings were easy targets for cruel jokes. I did not fit in, and I was insecure.

(These are the actual style shoes I had in middle school!)

Coach Rogers
I played sports, and sang on the choir team, but my spirit had been damaged, and I did not seek the spotlight any more. I was naturally athletic, but if I excelled it would bring attention. I was content to fade into the large pack of mediocrity in everything I did.

There was one coach who was also my science teacher who saw something in me. I wasn't sure why, but Coach Rogers would put extra pressure and responsibility on my shoulders. I don't think I responded well at that time in my life. I probably let him down more than he deserved, but he made an impression on me. I appreciated what he did, but I never told him, because I didn't know how.

(Hard to believe it's been 20 years since I walked those halls!)

Ms. Brookmole
In high school I continued my strategy of flying below radar. My junior year I took Art as an elective. This is where I met Ms. Brookmole, who has since remarried and changed her last name. I remember making a fuss when she asked us to buy magazines for an assignment. I hated spending money, and I made it clear to everyone in that classroom how irritated I was. Fortunately, I turned in my assignment and she loved it. From then on she encouraged me to pursue art more heavily. I had no intention of doing so. I was going to be a pilot or an engineer. At least until I took my first physics class. Art sounded like a promising career suddenly. She coaxed me into submitting my work into school art contests which I won several awards. This gave me the courage to make art my major when I moved onto college.

I haven't been able to reunite with Ms. Brookmole or Coach Rogers, but one day, while I was still in high school, I ran into Mrs Maxwell while working at a local grocery store. She ran up to me with a big smile and hugged me about as hard as you can get away with hugging in public without getting a citation . She turned to my coworkers beaming and doted on me as if I was her own child. She told them I was the best performer she had ever seen in all her decades of teaching. I was shocked, and a little embarrassed. She asked what plays I have been in since my grand fifth grade performance, and I was ashamed to admit that I hadn't been in one. She gave me a stern look and demanded I get back to it. And with one last hug she left. I think she will never know how much those brief minutes meant to me, and how much they influenced my future.

I hope my kids, and maybe if I'm lucky enough, other people look back and think of me as fondly as I think of these teachers.