I love it when a newspaper article evokes emotions. In fact, I love it that we still have big, floppy, spill your tea on, let the cat walk over the very paragraph being read, newspapers to read, but thatâ€™s a tangent for another day. Somewhere in yesterdayâ€™s Star Tribune there was an article written by a guy and dedicated to his favorite teacher. (Could I be any more vague?)
While those teacher=student-makes-good stories might be a dime a dozen in lesser hands, I found this particular story very moving. The authorâ€”and Iâ€™m sorry but my husband recycled the paper before I could get names and suchâ€”went on to say he recently revisited his favorite childhood teacher. Â He was a bit afraid that she might not be the person his memory held in such high esteem. Â The author did recall that this woman recognized his writing potential early on, and told him to ignore everything she was teaching the rest of the classâ€¦she wanted him to do honorâ€™s level workâ€¦and he did.
The story ends with the teacher not only being honored for her many years of work in education, but with the authorâ€™s memory appeased. She was, as it turned out, the same fiery woman who rallied students and fought for inspiring individuals to be their greatest selves. When he re-introduced himself to her after all the intervening years he also handed her his book, and explained she was the reason the book came to be. She wept and said she was beginning to think she no longer mattered, that her teaching was ineffective.
After I read the story I thought about the teachers in my formative years. They were varied for sure, and in some respects I learned more about how not to treat people by their actions than by any great positive teaching moments.
Mrs. Zimple, for example, was my first and second grade teacher. I didnâ€™t learn until many years later that she was an alcoholic, and even then forgiveness didnâ€™t come easy on my part. Mrs. Zimple must have been a tortured woman, but I never learned why. I do know–from being in her classes–that she selected one student each year to torment, and that unlucky child was usually mentally or physically handicapped in some way. It was disgraceful then, and lingers in my mind painfully even now.
I also remember witnessing, four years later, her drag my six-year-old brother to the principalâ€™s office. I was on my way down to the girlâ€™s restroom and stopped when I saw how she was roughhousing him.Â He looked so small and so scared. Â Before she knocked on the door and entered the principalâ€™s office, she shook my brotherâ€™s tiny shoulder and backhanded him across his face. Her face was nearly purple and I saw her muttering something inches from his ear that I couldnâ€™t hear. My brother put his hands to his face and cried out.
I was in fifth grade then and wanted to race down the stairs and to push her away from him, but I did nothing. It was like those dreams when you try to run but are frozen in place.Â But this was no dream, and I hated that I couldnâ€™t move, that my child/adult teachings forbid me to rebel against authority.
I was raised to always respect my elders and teachers, and therefore allowed the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach to churn with anger instead of acting. Even now when I think about it, I wish I had gotten into the fray. I wish I wouldâ€™ve said something, caused a ruckus, gotten other adults involved and aware of her â€œsecret.â€ I believe I did tell my mom when I got home from school that day, but nothing came of the incident. Â My mother felt strongly that teachers were unquestioned authority figures in school, and if my brother needed discipline then so be it.
I donâ€™t know why this memory dredged up along with the positive article on a spectacular teacher, nor do I know why I needed to share it. Was Mrs. Zimple any more damaging to my budding psyche than a teacher riddled with apathy? Yeah, probably, but how much more?
I have been lucky and have had numerous exceptional teachers over the years.Â Still, the memory of Mrs. Zimple remains and makes me wonder about the other Mrs. Zimplesâ€™ in our system, hiding secrets, and allowed to â€œteach.â€ Abuse of power, particularly against young children, is hard to pardon. Maybe that is why I was emotionally moved to hear a story about a teacher who fought for children instead of beating them down.
Does anyone want to share a story about an unforgettable teacher? What makes that person stay embedded in your memory?Â Thanks for reading, and Mrs. Zimple, I hope you eventually found peace with your demons.