Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Love to Miss Wiffler

I loved my thrid grade teacher will all my heart.
In the beginning, I was a bit suspicious of her because she wasn't a Nun like all three of my previous teachers had been. So, I wasn't positive she was a real teacher. Our class was a good environment, I liked being there, so my doubts subsided. I was generally a fine student although I was sometimes admonished for being slow to put my crayons away and move on to subjects requiring pencils. I came home a good many days with gold stars on my work and more than an occasional note asking my parents to help me address my tendency towards chattiness. I didn't actually intend to disrupt my classmates. But, to my 8 year old self when my assignments were complete it was time to visit. It wasn't long before I had an intimate knowledge of the "reminder corner" of our classroom.

Somewhere early in the school year parents came to have a chat with the teacher about their children. I remember all the excitement of getting lots of work and art and projects and decorations up in the classroom for the parents to see. I was popping my shirt buttons proud of my "perfect" assignments and more proud of my creations from construction paper, glue, scissors and crayons which had been selected for display. The big open house party day came and I was eager for my Mom to come be proud of me. We were one of the last to have our teacher chat because Mama had waited her turn in another classroom before coming to mine.

So odd that I remember this day so well.

I remember my Mama carefully seating herself in the child sized wooden straight back chair. She had on some really high heels so that made her knees higher than the seat and it looked funny to me. Which I commented on and was given that look from my Mama which meant "be quiet now". Our meeting started off just fine as my teacher told Mama what a delight I was; eager, exuberant, kind, polite, respectful. Miss W had a folder of some of my very best work and said really great stuff about me to my Mama!!!! The sweetness of it all was a gift.

Then I heard my Mama say to Miss W,
" In your evaluation what is Fishy's biggest need for improvement?".
I surely could not define what I was feeling then but looking back from here I think the feeling was dread, or panic or a crushing disappointment.

Miss W replied, "Well now, our Fishy has a busy brain and sometimes finishes up her work before her classmates. We need to work on the best utilization of that time as sometimes it is spent in the corner." Mama slid her eyes from Miss W to me then said, " I see".

I don't remember much of the rest of the meeting, but I do remember the ride home. Mama was quiet. The car radio was off. Even my siblings and I were quiet. Once we got home, Mama patted my oldest sister on the shoulder and said,
"Honey I am proud of you for being so smart and so good". She went on in to her room , got changed and came to start the dinner. She called me into the Kitchen, pulled out a chair and asked me to sit. Which I did. After a while I asked if I could help. Mama turned and said, " No Fishy, just sit there". Some more time went by and I offered to peel the vegetables and of course the answer was "No Fishy, just sit there. And Fishy? Be quiet". More time passed and I asked if I could set the table. Mama turned and looked at me sternly, "Sit and be quiet".

Well I sat. Being eight what I thought about was unfairness. I thought it was mighty unfair that we had our big open house party day at school and here I was in the kitchen with Mama who was definitely not saying nice things about all my wonderful papers and art. No. Here I was in the kitchen with Mama and it sure was feeling like I was in some sort of trouble. I was feeling bad, really bad.

I sat at that table before dinner, during dinner, after dinner. I sat at that table while it was bath time and story time. Requests for a book, some paper and crayons, some scissors and construction paper were all denied. But there I was, sitting quietly in the Kitchen, which I began to study. Everything. The floor, walls, doors, cabinets, appliances, the table and chairs, the high chair , our board with all the chores listed, our church and school calendar, all the stuff on the countertops, the curtains, the stuff on the refrigerator. Before long I came to hate the kitchen. And I began to think about why I didn't like the Kitchen and what would I like? That was the first time I ever remember "designing" a room in my head. I could "see" that other kitchen as clearly as watching a Disney movie.
I see now that was my silver lining. I didn't know this at eight.

Eventually Mama came to tell me I could take my bath and get to bed. She came into the room I shared with a sister to wish us goodnight. First she again told my sister how proud she was of her. Next she came on over to my bed, held my hand for a minute and said, " Fishy, if I tell the dog to sit and stay he stays put until I give him another command. I'd hate to think you are not as smart as the dog".

Then she kissed us goodnight and left the room.

I tried hard not to but it wasn't long before I started to cry. Quiet little sniffles at first then those built to something much bigger. Something really scarry, which I couldn't identify, was squashing my chest. Try as I might, I could not control the sobs. After a while my sister said into the darkness, " Aw Fishy, you probably can't help being dumber than a dog cause all those brains fell out."
She meant well, but I cried myself to sleep.

Not long after this experience Miss W got to noticing I was different. My tripss to the "reminder corner" were pretty much over. I wasn't "visiting" my classmates while they tried to finish up their assignments or asking for a storybook or crayons to keep me entertained. I sat. Quietly. I did study the classroom, the furniture, the stuff on the boards, the buildings I could see out the window. Eventually I got to where I was studying things more than I was studying my lessons and so I began to get fewer stars on my papers. But, there were no notes going home to Mama saying I needed some help learning to sit and be quiet.

Then one day, when Miss W sent all my classmates outside for recess, she asked me to stay in the room with her. She pulled a couple of chairs close together and produced little cartons of milk and some chocolate chip cookies. After we had a bit of our treat she asked me,
" Well now Fishy, is something troubling you?"
" No ma'am"
" Are you sure? It seems to me like you have something on your mind."
" No ma'am. Thanks for the snack may I go outside now please?"
" No Fishy, I believe we will just stay here and visit a bit more."
I sat quietly looking at the cookie crumbs on the napkin.
Miss W said, " Fishy, spell 'alligator' please."
I spelled it.
Miss W nodded and said, " please spell ' kindergarten'
I spelled that too.
" How about ' discourage'?"
I looked up and said, " Miss W, that word is not on our spelling list."
" No Fishy, it isn't but can you spell it?"
" No ma'am"
"Please try" said Miss W then pronounced the word again slowly and clearly.
I didn't look at Miss W for encouragement but I focused on a building in the far away view then suddenly yelled in my loudest voice " D-I-S-courage !"
I started to cry. Then I cried harder , hiccuped, sniffled, hung my head in shame.
Miss W offered comforting little pats and fetched the tissues and there, there'd a bit till something close to regular breathing returned. The she said,
" Fishy, do you know all your spelling words?"
"Yes ma'am"
" Do you know some of your spelling words are wrong on your last few tests?"
" yes ma'am"
" Can you help me to understand how you write incorrectly words you know you can spell correctly?"
" Yes Ma'am Miss W, it's because I am dumber than a dog on account of my brains spilling out"
" Now Fishy, I think your brains are just fine and right up there where they belong", she said while gently tapping my forehead.
" Beg your pardon Miss W but I think you are wrong this time"
" Why am I wrong Fishy?", she asked
" On account of you can't know this but I've busted my head open really bad three times. I had to be taken to the hospital and the doctors sure did try to put everything back right but I guess they didn't do a good job. So here I am missing my spelling words cause of those spilled brains and being dumber than a dog".

I could see Miss W was trying hard not to laugh in my face in light of these revelations but she lost that struggle and busted out laughing til she cried.
Then she got off her chair, pulled me out of my chair and gave me the biggest hug ever. She told me I was a wonderful, smart, creative, joyful child of God and she told me she loved me. She told me she would have a chat with my Mama about my fine brains and how she was positive my dog could not spell a single word.

On that day Miss W became my friend, my mentor, my " go to " person. If I was troubled about something she had a knack for setting things right. She was THE person who more than any other taught me to talk to God, taught me to give my burdens to God and taught me to love the "presents" God had graced me with. My adored Miss W loved my big imagination, loved my exuberance, loved my art, loved the stories I wrote and she loved me. And oh! how I loved her.

I will never forget her but I also don't think about her every day.
It has been a very long time since I was in third grade.
But this weekend our priest offered up a sermon on stewardship which was not about tithing time or talent. No indeed,
this education was on our responsibility to be good stewards of God's gifts to us.
That in fact, our individual gifts from God are more precious than the gifts from the Magi bringing the gold, frankincense and myrrh. This priest, just like my beloved Miss W, was smiling before us counseling each of us to be good stewards of our gifts. To develop them, to protect them, to use them for good, to respect God's will for us through these gifts. He encouraged us each to be warriors in defense of these gifts, scholars in pursuit of understanding of all our gifts , generous in the sharing of these gifts and always grateful for the gifts. To do less, he said, was to reject God.

So today I wrote all this down. In case tomorrow I am frightened , like some huge unidentified fear is smashing my chest. Or worry that I just am not wise enough to navigate this new business reality which could result in the perishing of FishyDesigns and my gift. Or worry about my Mama sitting in her chair waiting for others to offer the assistance she requires. Or worry about my own journey as the Mama and if I am doing, being, sharing, seeing, counseling all I should. If I have one of those anxious days, I will remember the lessons of my beloved Miss W about being God's child and having the faith for courage and not giving in to being discouraged. And, I will remember this good man who tries his best to shepherd us all wisely.


Pam said...

Beautiful and poignant and I think your mama was pretty dang smart. Sisters, however, have a lot to answer for.

Buzz Kill said...

Wow, you have a good memory. I can't remember much from 3rd grade and certainly not with the detail you recalled in your story. Probably because I never had a relationship like this with any of my teachers, ever. And I'm older and and more cynical I suspect.

You are very fortunate to have had a teacher like Miss W. And your definitely right about paying it forward. Nice story.

Savannah said...

....and I will always remember the beautiful way you have of expressing yourself and always making me feel something after I have read your words. Thankyou.

fishy said...

Sisters get a pass because I did bust my head open three times and had a terrible childhood illness which I was not expected to survive. Certainly our family was told if my body survived my brains would not. Kids of my generation mostly believed what we were told or, what we overheard grownups saying.

I remember thrid grade and my beloved Miss W much more than other grammar school memories. I cannot even tell you the name of my 4th grade teacher. And yes, there is absolutely no doubt Miss W was a huge present/presence in my life. For which I remain grateful to this day.

I do remember some things siblings do not. I believe this is due to the visual memory thing I have. Maybe that is one of my "gifts" to balance the spillage!

I guess I write what I feel as much as what I think.
Or maybe I'm still dumber than the dog and cannot separate the two? For me this is a love story and a thank you note for Miss W sparked by the reinforcement of her message via the Epiphany sermon. I feel quite blessed!

Jenny said...

Off topic, or not, but I once read if you want to know your TRUE self, think about who you were when you were eight/nine years of age. At that point, before puberty and life has taken hold, the true essence of our personalities are present. What a gift your teacher gave you by preserving your faith in yourself at such a fragile time. And.... how wonderful you were able to know and trust Miss W. was right. :-)

The idea of Little Fishy sitting in a kitchen making her first design is a great image.

You are a talented writer (among other things) and this post is one of my favorites.

(p.s. my siblings tortured me too.)

fishy said...

I think you are VERY on target! I agree there is something pure about age 8 and also something special about third grade. In fact I have had that discussion with one of my sibs and certainly for us, those were "key" times in our self identities. And oh what a blessing Miss W was, and continues to be, in my life.
As a parent , when I have sometimes worried Mermaid was not making the best choices, I look hard at the picture of her at 8 which sits on my dresser. Somehow THE Mermaid is always there and it lessens my worries.

Ah siblings! There is something about that shared history ... maybe it is learning to take what life throws at you because of the "toughening up" necessary to survive ones sibs!

h said...

Off-topic, but this made me think of the likely experience for many little fishies in 2010.

1) Miss Wiffler replaced by an unaccountable uncaring educrat.

2) Valuable life-lesson replaced by Ritalin and even stronger psycho-tropic druggings.

fishy said...

Oh! My. God !!!!!!

The loss of the Miss Wiffler's to the current generation is sad beyond measurement. I cannot overstate the importance of this awesome woman in my life. There are no words, blogs or prayers big enough to thank her.

I cannot bear the thought of current Fishy's being PUNISHED with psycho tropic drugs because they are non standard issue. In my case, no deficits or disorders were in play. What was in play ? Miss Wiffler recognized that I had a fine intellect, had a fast and very busy brain, had a larger than average dose of creativity and had a joyful spirit. Her ability to find a way in her classroom to let me be me, to encourage me to be me, to encourage me to better choices of time management and to do all that without stealing my joy and confirming me as God's child .... beyond saintly. A gift for a lifetime.

"Valuable life lesson", actually is life support system! I haven't been in a school in a very long time, but what you are sharing here, frightenes the scribble out of me.

Aunty Belle said...


gracious, what a memory. A most evocative recollection.

How on earth did ya have open haids so many times afore ya was eight???

Youse inspired me to say a little prayer fer yore Miss W. I choose to think of her as dear li'l ole lady wif' smiley eyes smellin' of freesia talc... wif a flower blanketed wee cottage.

Ya know, we must come from the same era of Catholic education.

'Cept I had a barracuda of a Sister fer mah third grade--a Mammy Yokum faced tower of terror, she intimidated my mama (Granny) Kids hid under they beds quiverin' pleadin' wif they daddies not to send 'em to school wif Sister Casmir. I adored her.

So did all the other young'uns at the *end* of the year--chillen's clung to the black folds of her long habit, they wailed when parents tried to pry them from her room. This teacher was the fairest, most just woman I have ever known.

We kids knowed intuitively she loved God an all His li'l babies that He placed in her care. Iffin' youse a smart kid, she accepted only perfection...iffin' ya needed encouragement, she was gentle as an angel--somehow she met each the individual need an never resorted a a lazy one-size-fits-all approach. To her, each of us was an unfathomable miracle with eternal destinies. She made sure we knew that.

To this day I think my inner conviction that I am here for a reason an' that what I does wif' mah life matters is her gift--one that has given me a lifetime of unshakable faith in the ultimate goodness of the created order.

Fishy, ya see how the potentially negative time in yore formation led to yore talent? Bless yore Miss W!

Tonight I reckon I will say a prayer fer all the wonderful teachers everywhar'who are often forgotten--thank them fer their devotion to their vocation. Good teachers hep build a good nation--they form the citizens of tomorrow.

Kymical Reactions said...

Oh Fishy. Thoes people who make positive impressions on our lives at a tender age often remain our most favorite, and your memory of this event is sweet and delightful.

Thank you for sharing. xo.

Dani said...

Ah Fishy, you are so beautiful and wise. I'm glad that you had a teacher that saw that and could guide you well.

fishy said...

Sounds like you remembers yore 3rd grade teacher every bit as much as I do mine. What is it about that age/grade?

Tragic on the "one size fits all" teaching you describe. Your nuns way of expecting all students to work to their capacity ... a priceless gift. As you shared, you carry to this day convictions established in third grade.

We have much to be grateful for.
Kids today would probably find our memories in the same realm as a good "storybook" . I reckon there's an argument for that as i see your no-nonsense nun as a Strega Nona , purpose driven type and you see my beloved Miss W as living in the proverbial rose covered cottage. There is a good chance our "visions" are compiled memories of those teaching in Catholic grammer schools of that era.

Indeed! Those people who make "positive impressions at a tender age" are GIFTS !!!!
I think what happens is they guide us to positive impressions of our own selves ... for which they can never be thanked enough!

sparringK9 said...

you write so beautifully of experience, memory and their applications. im not sure how to take what your mom said...i mean, it seems like a bit of encouragement in the areas you shined wouldve gone a long way. im not sure how effective a motivational tool praising the sister and saying nothing to you was...but looks like you turned out pretty good!

my favorite teacher was ms chambers in 7th grade. a giant black woman who commanded respect and had an even temperment. she was kind enough not to laugh on my paper examining the middle east crisis. grrherhahahha

good post fishy

darkfoam said...

i absolutely enjoyed reading this! what a wonderful tribute to a loving and insightful teacher. i'm trying to remember my 3rd grade teacher but memory eludes me. between 1st and 3rd grade i had been in 5 different schools on two different continents ..

fishy said...

Well, my Mama raised a few dogs before she raised children. The rule of thumb with dogs was to correct an undesired behavior pronto. Reckon it works on children too!

As for Your Miss Chambers ... a teacher who can
"command respect" is starting from a very good place. On the other hand you make it sound as if her very size was intimidating so that probably was a fine incentive for the respect.

You were writing on the Mid East in 7th grade?
Me too! I wrote a civics paper on the unfairness of throwing Palestinians out of their homeland because the world needed to appease its guilt about the Jewish victims of Hitler. That was not a well received hypothesis with my teacher. I wonder what your Miss Chambers would have thought of my logic?

Nice to see you here at the Pond :-)
I reckon if you spent your grammar school years traveling the continents it would indeed be hard to remember one particular teacher.
i certainly do not remember all my teachers as I do my beloved Miss Wiffler. She was an exceptional person and a tremendous blessing in my life.