catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 17 :: 2011.09.30 — 2011.10.13


I remember the names of all my teachers

I remember the names of all of my teachers.  I went to really nice upscale schools in a swanky district.  They weren’t Ivy League or anything, but they were the kind of schools that realtors drone on and on about.

“Yes, 3 full bathrooms and of course we are in the _______ school district and you’ll want to think about that as your kids get older.”

Yet it wasn’t until fifth grade that I had a teacher that I knew cared about me as a real human being instead of a problem they wished they could pass off to someone else.  Mr. John Hersh discovered I had a lisp and recommended speech therapy.  He was patient with my inability to keep track of all my stuff.  Mr. U., the year before, had dumped my cubby out on the floor, right before recess (and in front of the class).  I got to spend that day sorting through a mess that would have a made a schizophrenic packrat happy. 

I do not remember what exactly it was that Mr. Hersh did each day that made me feel safe, but it was the first year that I didn’t pretend to get stomach aches to get out of math.  Two years before, I had Mrs. K.  In her class, I had stood at that chalkboard, tears in my eyes and back to the class.  I was humiliated.  I had to stand there until I could remember the “RIGHT” answer for 8+2, since apparently 11 was not correct.  But no matter how long I stood there I couldn’t think of it, the giggles and snickers felt like a hot wall pushing my face into the board and I just couldn’t think.  I actually don’t remember how that scenario ended — not well, I think. 

In music class I was yelled at for pretending to have a deep voice: “ALL girls can sing soprano when they are young, period!  You are just not trying.” But I couldn’t make my voice behave, so I spent that semester sitting in the back of the class apart from the others.

Now, it seems clear that I probably have some ADD and other identifiable issues.  Maybe if I were little again, school would go differently, but who knows.  Honestly, I was a truly frustrating student.  I forgot most assignments.  I lost my books regularly. (In fact, lest you judge Mr. U. too harshly, it was the third missing vocabulary book that fueled his frustration.)  I was completely distracted during class, off in my daydream world or covertly reading books hidden under my desk.  I filled an oversized army surplus backpack with about 40 pounds of assorted class materials and trash each day and lugged it home.   I dumped the pack by the door and spent the rest of the day roaming the woods and playing kickball and trying to forget that there was school tomorrow.

In the late 1970s it was the end of first grade and I couldn’t read.  So they did testing, and, oops!  I didn’t have any problems they could find, but I was qualified as gifted!  I remember the tone of incredulity that my teachers had over this announcement.  I hated gifted classes. Everyone else seemed to have a right to be there, but why was I there?

Mr. Hersh didn’t seem surprised.  Over the years, Mr. Hersh, Mrs. Schofield, Mrs.Rhoads, Mr. Poelhman, and Mr. Ulrich each gave me hope.  They looked at me and saw me, not as a problem that they wished they could pawn off to someone else, they saw me.  Perhaps teachers are great because their love of learning extends even to their students.  Maybe they love to learn about these complex people — these expanding, dynamic, messy people forming right before their very eyes and whom they love.

I know Mr. Hersh loved me and I am a more full and loving person because of it.  Thank you, John.

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