Last night, I started thinking of some teachers that really touched my life, where meeting them was a significant milestone and changed me for the better. I guess you can say that about any teacher to some degree — some bad ones strongly affected the rest of my life too, for the worst — but I wish I had five minutes to thank these people.
The whole thing really started because I was thinking of one of my college professors, Father Frank, and how I wish I could call him to discuss some of the questions I’m wrestling with now. Father Frank challenged everything we thought about what do these teachings mean, about putting aside the imagery and look for the real lessons, to think because that’s what you’re supposed to do. I remember how amazed I was and how po’d my friends were when he used a paper I wrote on Jesus, Christianity, and God’s Word as an example of what he expected from all his students. Word got back to me that he was holding it up in other classes, reading from it, and using the content as discussion points. The reason why my friends were po’d and one of the reasons why he held it up was because I spent exactly 0 time in the library researching it. I gave him my thoughts, my ideas and unique concepts, based on the most unlikely places like theater and comedy. I had observed and thought for myself. I miss his classes. I miss the whole world that he opened up for me. I would love to discuss Joseph Campbell and more with him today.
Whenever I think about teachers, I always think of Sister Assumpta. She was actually a principal in my one elementary school. I had transferred there late in the school year, so late that she almost didn’t take me in but made the allowance based on what my mom told her. I was going down a bad path in school, getting in more and more trouble, becoming more and more troubled. Even she hadn’t taken me in…. I don’t want to think of the person I’d be now. I was only there a couple of months when she and I discussed something; it had started with my improvement and how I couldn’t believe I could do it when she pulled me aside after a class. I can picture and hear her clearly: “You have two problems,” she told me. “The first is you have no confidence. Somebody or a lot of somebodies tore it away from you. You don’t believe in yourself. The second is, you’re lazy.” She smiled and I grinned. She had me nailed and I knew it. “You can do great work if you’d just didn’t give in to either of these things. So I always want you to remember two things. I believe in you, I know what you can be and what you can do. And whenever you think of being lazy, I’m behind you with the proverbial swift kick to get going!” I’m actually getting a lump in my throat as I remember it. If only she was here with her unwavering support, love, and swift kick to help me now. I should have realized it all much younger so I could contact her and tell how very important it was that she came into my life. The only good thing I did do is: when she retired from that school, I was one of the many, many young adults who came to the special service. Young kids, all of us supposedly grown up ones, even the ones who gave her the most hassle and got the most discipline, plus the parents whose kids she had helped, we packed into the auditorium and crowded around her. Tears sprang into her eyes when she walked in and saw us. It was like the final scene in Mr. Holland’s Opus. She told us all, “No one can ever say I didn’t have children, because these are my children. And I want to thank their parents for letting them into my life.” She’s gone now, but what a meaningful life she had.
Since I’ve gone on so long, I’ll mention a few quickly: Mr. Morning, my 8th grade teacher — you had jokes, advice, and a friendly ear. Thank you. Mr. Rocks who for 4 years in high school was a great friend and mentor; who made history come alive, but more importantly, reached out whenever he saw me struggling, even if it was just struggling with teen years. More teachers should be like you. Sister Carmella, for your support of a kid still struggling with confidence, for taking me out of study hall to sneak me homemade chocolate chip cookies, for being a well of strength in a 5 foot body, and more fun — I dedicate my Nuns having Fun calendar. I hope you have one. And for Ms. Dennis, my Spanish teacher – I should have listened to you. But kids are stupid and think adults know nothing.
Last, I want to thank Mrs. Force. She wasn’t a teacher per se. In a time when women were harrassed because they didn’t stay home, Mrs. Force totally understood and cheered them on, and gave the best support she could: she took in us little monsters, from infants to late elementary. She taught us so much and was so fantastic. If you got in trouble with her, your parents knew you deserved it. They knew the rules and fun they wanted you to learn was going to be carried from their house to hers and back again. My nephews and I still talk and laugh over those wonderful memories, of how I took on some big bully who was terrorizing them and bit the kid because I knew that in a straight up fight, he would beat the snot out of me. And how Mrs. Force wasn’t sure what to do with me: biting was a huge no-no of course, but I stood up for smaller kids and my nephews, who were like my little brothers. Naptimes, and Dum Dum lollipops, chicken noodle soup, Playdough, books and Bullwinkle…. it was a fantastic childhood. I’m too late to thank her too, so this is the only way I can. I don’t bite people, Mrs. Force, and I may watch more TV than you would have allowed, but I also read a lot still. I still stick up for my friends and family, and I don’t mouth back…. all the time. You put the care into daycare, before the word even existed. Thank you.