Mrs. Green, My Beloved First Grade Teacher
I've always needed to feel at home no matter where I was and laughing always feels like home to me. My family was not particularly close-knit, but when we did connect, it was through laughter. I remember the first time I realized that humor came easily to me. My brother and sister were... well, they were bullies. Not the fisticuffs/name-calling kind. More the emotional/belittling kind. I was the youngest by quite a bit. They called me the baby and it stung every time they said it. Anyway, our family of five was piled into my mom's LTD, this was before mini-vans. I was 6 and my sister said something especially cutting to me. Without trying, I made a comeback, and it was a good one. Everyone burst out laughing and she sat quiet without smiling. I remember not showing my smile. That would have been suicide. I had to sit quiet and let the joke ride out. If I said anything, it would come back on me. I felt bad for her, that she had been schooled by a kid half her age, and scared cause I knew I'd pay for it later. A sharp wit was imperative for survival in my family, but it felt like home and I guess I brought it with me where ever I went.
I remember meeting Mrs. Green, my first grade teacher. When she smiled, her eyes lit up. She was full of good nature and kindness. I wasn't like the other girls. I didn't go sit on her lap or ask for hugs. I wonder if I feared rejection or maybe it was just the affects of being jaded so early. It didn't matter, I still adored her. By the time I'd hit 2nd grade, I got my taste of justice. I'd had the greatest teacher ever, so now it was time for the worst. Their names couldn't have fit them better. Mrs. Green's name spoke of life and new beginnings, the next teacher's name was Mrs. Stone. Wow, how did any child deserve this? I wont burden you with the stories of her classroom, but I will tell you she left me with this lifelong question, "Why do people go into teaching when they don't like children?"
Something nice happened in Mrs. Stone's class though. We moved into a new building and there were no walls. Mrs. Green's class and Mrs. Stones class were practically in the same room with a big space between them. I could just look over at her when my classroom got to be too much to bear. Like a man sitting with a nagging wife, looking at a pleasant woman across the room, that was me. Those first graders didn't know how good they had it. Be brave young ones, your time is coming.
One day these two worlds collided. For some reason I was standing alone with Mrs. Stone and Mrs. Green as they chatted. Out of nowhere Mrs. Green asked Mrs. Stone if she'd heard my impressions. (Why I had impressions, at the age of 6 I've no idea.) Mrs. Green didn't realize what she was doing... bringing attention to me. I saw Mrs. Stone repress a seething anger and try to come up with something civil to say. (She was particularly angry at me over an incident with my mom at the zoo.) I didn't understand what it was I was seeing on Mrs. Greens face back then, I do now though. It was fear. It never occurred to me that Mrs. Green was afraid of her too. It seemed impossible these two women were a part of the same universe. I don't remember if I ever did my impressions that day (Bill Cosby and Paul Lynde doing Mr. Whipple.) What I do remember is that she bragged on me. She remembered something I didn't even remember showing her and she made me feel special. I'm 44. I. Still. Remember. That. Humor was my strength and she highlighted it in front of my persecutor.
Teachers do so much. It's not just rhetoric to say they work so incredibly hard for so little money, helping to create society. It's not just our little towns and cities they're making a difference in. It's in our little hearts and minds... one child at a time. The really, really good ones and the really, really bad ones, we never forget them. We all know what kind of impact a great teacher has on us. If you've had one, send them a note of thanks. If your child has one, do something to make them feel special. I wish I could go back and thank Mrs. Green, but all I can do is remember her with this little memorial. Thank you Mrs. Green. I love you, I'll never forget you and I'm not as cynical as I was when I was 6. I'd certainly hug you now, as a matter of fact, I'd be the first one in line.