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?"
" 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.