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Tuesday, August 16, 2005

A Teacher Story

T is waiting upstairs for me to come "help her" clean her room in preparation for tomorrow, her first day of high school. All this high school prep (and cleaning out my iupui inbox where I ran across an e-mail I'd sent telling this story) has me thinking about some of my high school teachers. As some of you may know, my high school experience was less than stellar. That said, I couldn't have asked for better teachers.

I had SEVERAL 'favorite' teachers in high school. I guess that isn't using the word favorite correctly, but it seems to me to fit.

One of them was Mrs. M. She taught algebra and pre-calculus and she was tough. Her name could easily strike fear in the hearts of students, and often did. I had her for algebra as a sophomore and though she was strict and expected great deal of effort from her students, she was fair and had a sense of humor. Junior year, she was my pre-calculus teacher. That was the year I got pregnant - and the year Mrs. M. did the most amazing thing for me.

I had T at the end of April. I missed 2 weeks of school - my Mom stayed home with me and T the first week, helping us adjust. T and I toughed it out the 2nd week and we both survived. Then it was back to school. Unfortunately, it was tough to keep up with the demanding workload and the new responsibilities I now had at home.

At the end of the school year, I still had a make up exam to take for Mrs. M. Classes were over, it was hot, I was still fat :) I arrived on time, sat down in one of the little bitty desks, and stared blankly at the test she put in front of me. I began the problems but as I had missed so many classes, one glance at the pages told me there was no way I could make a decent effort. I was quiet and I tried desperately to make some headway on the exam.

Maybe Mrs. M. could see me struggling; maybe her gesture was independent of my struggle. But she walked over to me, put down a coupon for a free ice cream cone at Dairy Queen, and told me to go get an ice cream. She took my test from me and I think she either tore it up or threw it away. I still can't even type that story without getting teary-eyed.

Having just left the environment of law school grading curves and stiff competition, I guess some might say what she did for me was unfair. I realize that. But the gesture touched me deeply and its implications were greater than the grade involved. It was her decision to be caring and human, her willingness to step outside of her strict persona and exacting expectations, that spoke to me. She offered me a brief reprieve at a time I truly needed it and I am forever grateful.


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