catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 17 :: 2011.09.30 — 2011.10.13


Women who teach

I remember, in elementary school, being enamored with my teachers, especially the women.  They were so pretty and wise.  They smelled nice and wore makeup.  I longed to bask in the glow of their approval, these idealized goddesses of education who had handsome husbands and impeccable style and brilliant senses of humor.

And then there was the single teacher who got pregnant in the middle of the school year and our Christian school community couldn’t agree on any other course of action than her resignation, complete with a tearful confession to a room full of eight-year-olds.  Then there was the P.E. teacher who got cancer and, after teaching a generation of us how to play softball and imitate Wolfman Jack, she taught us how to die.  Then there were those older teachers whose feminine beauty had faded in the eyes of pre-teens, but whose wizened love and discipline emanates from our memories now with an even greater potency.  And I can’t forget to the one who always wore black on Valentine’s Day and had a pet whose translated name meant “sorrow.”

During those years, I was drawn to the women who taught me, though I was more focused on learning from my peers, rather than my teachers, how to be a woman.  Fortunately, through no special effort of my own, it dawned on me somewhere around seventh grade that it was much more fun to be friends with a motley band of outcasts that crossed gender boundaries than to waste all of my grief on being in with the popular girls.  As a result, I entered high school more eager than I might have been otherwise to learn from all sorts of teachers, male or female, old or young, eccentric or…well, I don’t know if I ever met a teacher without eccentricities.

And yet, I was still watching the women closely, though in a new way as I matured.  They were showing me how to have deep friendships as single women approaching middle age.  They were showing me how job-sharing with their partners could allow teachers to be both good parents and good educators.  They showed me how to grieve the deaths of my peers.  They showed me how to work hard and to play hard, to persist for reasons other than grades, to survive miscarriages and public breeches of trust.

For these women and many others who have been my teachers since my school years, I am deeply grateful, for they’re all still teaching me not only how to be a woman who is seeking and honest, but how to be a teacher as well.  I call on their memories often as I learn how to live in and love a community with one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state.  I reflect on their examples of strength, care and creativity as I, along with my husband, learn to live in relationship with an evolving community of young visionaries in our small city. 

They give me hope that, as men and women living on a spectrum, it is possible to be at once tempered by lament for all that separates us and alive with wonder at all that enfolds us — not unlike that last day of kindergarten when Miss Klein lined us all up and gave us each a warm embrace in turn.  Her one-year appointment was finished, but the contract of her love knew no such boundaries.  With tears running down her face, she commissioned us to go forth into a bittersweet world, unafraid to invest our hearts, though we’ve considered all the facts.

Lesson learned, over and over again.

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