My Grade School Teachers Mrs. K and Ms. A
Grade School Teachers
Out of the many teachers that we encounter in our lives, probably grade school or elementary school teachers have the most power to make a student's school life either happy or miserable. A grade school teacher's competence as a teacher does not seem to lie so much in academic or teaching ability. It lies more in his/her ability to facilitate communication between students and offer guidance and care to each of his/her students. If the teacher finds him/herself incompatible with a certain student and therefore does not like him/her, then trouble lies ahead. On the other hand, if the teacher is compatible with a student, then the student will grow and will come to enjoy school life.
Although both my children now in grade 6 and 9 have been compatible on the whole with their respective teachers, my daughter had a rather uncaring English/history teacher in grade 7 who was expecting her third child and really couldn't care less if she was the only ESL (English as a Second Language) student out of all her students. My daughter found that her teacher was not very helpful and would not ask her for help if she did not understand an assignment. Without being able to obtain help from her teacher, my daughter became quite stressed. Luckily, both myself and the ESL teacher at her school offered her a helping hand and she was able to avoid lapsing into a state of depression.
My Grade 4 Teacher, Mrs. K
Like my daughter, I did have a teacher with whom I did not "connect" well at all. She was Mrs. K, my Grade 4 teacher. She was of Japanese descent, but was born and raised in the U.S. and spoke little or no Japanese. She had long hair and wore little or no make up. She sometimes wore Native American attire in which she looked quite good, owing to her physical appearance. This did not mean, however, that she showed any understanding of Native American culture. She often had our class sit on the floor cross-legged, pointing to her own bent knees and emphasizing that it was "Indian style". Also, I believe I learned what "war-whooping" was in her class.
It must have been a God given opportunity for Mrs. K to be offered a teaching position at an international school in Tokyo, Japan, her ancestral land. Contrary to what one might expect such as an affinity for a Japanese student like myself within a class of predominantly Caucasian students, this was not the case with Mrs. K. She somehow disliked me and it was quite obvious to me, even as a ten year old.
Because of her Japanese ancestry, she had befriended the parents of Japanese students like my mother and voluntarily started an English conversation class with them. My mother was also a member of this conversation class. I don't recall her complaining about it, so it must have worked out well for her. The voluntary English conversation classes, I believe, led Mrs. K to want to organize an event called "Japan Day". Prior to the event, she asked the parents to bring something related to the event and asked me to bring "tofu" with no direction as to how to preserve it. My mother was appalled. She sent a note to Mrs. K pointing out that tofu was easily spoiled and therefore would not last until the day of the event. I think I ended up bringing something else.
The Project I Never Completed
During the school year, Mrs. K asked each student to complete a project on famous women in American history. I guess I had no idea how to approach this assignment and I never asked Mrs. K for help. I didn't ask my own mother for help either with reasons I couldn't fathom until years later. My mother had started taking an evening course at a private university twice a week and was not home when I got home from school. She had prepared our dinner already, and it was sitting on the table, cold. I probably didn't ask her for help since she seemed so busy. I never actually started on the assignment and when asked by Mrs. K on the day it was due, I was stuck for an answer and suddenly started to weep. Mrs. K was shocked and immediately contacted my mother. "What is wrong with Takako?" she asked. After that I fell ill and on the few days off from school, my mother ended up writing the assignment for me. This particular episode set a conclusive tone to my overall impression of my fourth grade year. It turned out to be miserable, far from what I would call a happy school year.
My Grade 5 Teacher, Ms. A
Ms. A, my Grade 5 teacher, was a largely built woman with large blue eyes and long straight hair. She often wore cowboy boots with designs on them. She had a booming voice and at first sight, she was intimidating, but I caught on to her happy-go-lucky demeanor right away. She just seemed like an easy-going teacher, and by contrast to Mrs. K, she was quite approachable. I believe she was still single and in my knowledge, one of the first teachers to use the title "Ms" instead of "Miss" or "Mrs".
Early in the school year, Ms. A asked my mother why I was so quiet and apparently withdrawn. That came as a surprise to me since I had never perceived myself to appear as such. My mother was also surprised and made a hasty "excuse" by explaining that "Japanese girls are often like that". I doubt Ms. A was satisfied with my mother's response. My mother said she was intimidated by Ms. A's large blue eyes and just how big her hands were when they shook hands.
Other than being thought of as shy and withdrawn initially, Ms. A didn't single me out or discriminate me as one of the few Japanese students in, again, a predominantly Caucasian class. I don't recall not being able to complete an assignment during my year with her. In fact, I was selected as best speller towards the end of the school year, since I had consistently scored well on the spelling tests we had on a regular basis. One time, a close friend of mine did not want me to score near-perfect on a spelling test (she was jealous!) and secretly asked me to make a mistake on the test. So I chose to spell the word "nice" as "nise". Ms. A checked my spelling test and noticing the mistake, sort of reprimanded me with a playful punch saying "you spelled this word 'nise' ? You silly girl!" I didn't feel intimidated by her, but I did tense up, and felt bad, like I had been found lying to her.
I still don't recall how Ms. A's romance came to her student's notice. She was secretly dating Mr. C, a Grade 8 English teacher, who was supposedly still single, and from what I can see, a lady's man. I vaguely remember seeing them walking together after school hours. I ended up having Mr. C as my English teacher three years later, but don't remember whether or not they were still dating. I eventually lost track of them and at one point, they both left the school. My guess is that that is when their romance came to an end.
I wonder, after all these years, how Mrs. K and Ms. A are doing. They have probably reached retirement age, or are pretty close to it. The Native American attire and the cowboy boots certainly would not suit them! One thing I know for sure is that though I don't particular want to see Mrs. K again, it would be nice to sit down with Ms. A and reminisce over a cup of tea.