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In gratitude for good teachers…

I’ve wondered my whole life why I wasn’t motivated to “do my best” in school. I knew I was smart, the tests proved that. I just didn’t have the motivation to do more than I needed to. I wondered how, someday, if I had a kid like me, what would I tell them to help motivate them?

Today I asked my husband nicely to climb the tall ladder and get that certain box down from the topmost shelf in the garage, the dusty top sealing in the treasures of my life. I sat on a chair at the front of the garage and quickly claimed the ziplock bag waiting for me on top holding my old report cards. As I do with my kids, my eyes glance to the teacher comments first. It started in first grade. “Laura still needs to learn to put forth a little more effort. However I have enjoyed having her in our class this year. She has a lot to offer to the whole class.”

Then comes second grade; “Laura is making good progress, but daydreams much of the time” and “Laura dawdles in her assignments, but does them correctly.”

And third grade; “Laura’s work is quite good. At times she needs to improve her listening skills.”

Fourth grade was the report card I was looking for. Mrs. Armstrong, who wrote “please phone me” and “Laura does need a pep talk periodically” and “Laura is a good student when she is pushed a little; otherwise she only does minimal to get by.”

My mom remembered that this was the time when my five-year-old sister was having open-heart surgery for the hole in her heart. Maybe it was my sister on my mind, or the screeching voice and tension of Mrs. Armstrong that made me long to escape. It all changed the day Mrs. Armstrong threw an eraser at my head for daydreaming.

Yes. An eraser at my head. For daydreaming.

That was when I was transferred to Mr. Arbogast . He was my Mr. Hotter. He had a beard and wore sandals and I was vaguely aware that the mothers were aflutter over him. We begged him to bring his guitar and play so we could sing.  I felt calm and happy in his class. Today when I read his fourth quarter notes for fourth grade he says “Laura has been a real joyful addition to the classroom this past quarter. I would have liked to have had her all year.”

I burst out crying now that I know from the parent perspective how important an understanding teacher is. Someone who sees the strengths and joys, not the weakness or lack of conformity.

As I look further I find unnerving parallels to mine and my son Charlie’s reports and also standardized tests. In seeing him I am gifted with a second chance to view my life through a different lens. Not the lens of “why don’t you try harder” but the lens of inspiration, creativity, quick mind, joyful being. I see for myself that not every kid fits the mold that does well in a large classroom with a standardized curriculum.

My dad used to tell me if I didn’t like one of my teachers that I should work hard for myself in spite of it and I agree that’s true. But I have to say I am forever grateful to the teachers who understood me, just as I am grateful for the ones who understand Charlie. They are the ones who give lift to our wings, who we never forget, who forty years later we try to track them down, hoping it’s not too late, to say thank you.

Thank you for seeing my gifts and believing in me.


HUGE gratitude to Charlie’s teachers who have made the difference and believed in him: Mrs. Joachim, Mrs. Bryan, Mrs. Gabelman and Mr. Hotter!

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Renee Bell - November 26, 2012 - 4:37 am

so true!!!! my fingers are crossed for a fabulous teacher for my girl next year!