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The Impact of a Caring Teacher

May 30, 2008

I received an email from my grade six teacher a little while ago. It was a response sadly delayed by the death of his son, but coming through an accidentally shared bus ride to the airport, a conversation discovering connections, and a business card.

While traveling on a Park’nShare bus a year ago, excited by our approaching trip, Jim and I chatted with another, also excited, couple. We discovered our shared backgrounds as teachers, and our shared familiarity with the Stoney Creek area. Then we discovered that the other teacher had worked with the principal who was my grade six teacher. As we arrived at the airport, I gave the other teacher my business card, then flew away to Italy and forgot about the conversation.

So, just over a week ago, I got an email from Mr. ______, whom I have trouble thinking of by his first name. It was a lovely email, telling me what had inspired him to write it now – the upcoming principals’ BBQ – and why he hadn’t written earlier – the sad events around his son’s death.

Now you have to understand that I was in grade six in the mid Fifties, a long time ago, and my teacher has been retired for over 20 years. So what I’m quoting below from his email (with permission) is remarkable for at least two reasons: his memory from so long ago, and the privilege I have of seeing how a teacher saw me when I was young.

Here’s what my long ago grade 6 teacher said about me:

I had never forgotten you for various reasons. I’ll share only one with you at this time: When you arrived at Green Acres in my grade six class you were a real misfit because all the other kids knew each other from the year before and besides you could run faster than most. You may remember that I would on occasion take all of you outside to play some games. Before long the other children began to realize that you were an asset to have on their side – you could run fast and especially in playing prisoners’ base you outshone all the rest. Within weeks you were completely accepted and worked as hard as all the rest.

From my memory, I am pretty sure my teacher’s definition of me as a “misfit” is accurate. I had attended three different schools before arriving at Green Acres; my parents had only moved once but the post-War Baby Boom was causing lots of new schools to be built, so I had been transferred twice. I don’t remember all that much from my public schools days, but I remember being bullied (as it is now being called).

I also suspect another aspect of my being a “misfit” arose from my being “learning disabled” (as it is now being called). When my daughter was diagnosed in the summer between her grades five and six, I read all kinds of books about ADD. I found them puzzling, because what was described as a learning problem was “normal” as I understood it. And one of the aspects that was very familiar to me, was the descriptions of how socially inept many ADDers are. I remember clearly being berated by my playmates for my weak baseball skills because I didn’t swing at the balls thrown past me. I had undiagnosed seeing problems and I didn’t know how to respond to problems with my playmates. I don’t remember being seen as a good runner, but I do remember snippets of other activities that would probably confirm that.

What I do see in my teacher’s description, is a teacher who recognized my isolation, the possible negative reaction from the other students to my “skill” – running faster than them – and who, quite consciously I’m sure, set up situations where they could see the benefit of my being on their team. He made me part of the class, and I’m grateful. No wonder I remember him with such affection and admiration! And no wonder he remembers and describes my parents’ gratitude at the parent teacher meeting.

I was very lucky, very blessed, to land in the class of such a caring teacher.

More about his comments and my memories in a future post.

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