Mommy Blogger April B. -The Impact an Educator Has on a Child
About this time every year, I find myself disgruntled. My disgruntlement is always a direct result of a brand new school year and all the old feelings it stirs in me.
I did not grow up with the notion that teachers are heroes. My early school years were tarnished by a few teachers who broke me. They made me feel badly about myself. They made me believe I would never be or do anything good. So, I went through elementary and middle school believing I was not smart and completely devoid of any talents or anything to contribute.
And let me tell ya, parents and family and friends can defend you and build you up–and mine did… they really, really did–but sometimes even that can’t undo the hurtful things said by a couple of elementary school teachers. Did you know children will live up to the expectations placed upon them? Expect much and you will get much. The old “I’m rubber, you’re glue…” thing doesn’t help when a child sits in a classroom day after day the recipient of dirty looks, snide comments, and other forms of torture. I once had to wear a tail all day. A “tattle tail.” I can’t even remember who I told on or for what, but I remember the shame of walking through school all day with a tail pinned to my rear. Once, in fourth grade I was chosen (via a random drawing) to represent my grade on the school homecoming float. As my name was announced over the loud speaker, I remember my heart jumping with excitement. It fell a few moments later when my teacher cornered me. I’ll never forget the way she looked at me. And I’ll never forget what she said, which was prefaced with an exaggerated sigh. “Well, if it has to be you,” she sneered in disgust, “at least wear something nice. And ask your mother to trim your bangs. That would help. Some.” And once again, I was reminded that I wasn’t good enough for her. I wasn’t special enough. I wasn’t smart enough.
If I learned anything from her that year, it was that I would never be enough.
I didn’t understand why then and I still don’t understand why today.
This same teacher would often have her high school age daughters stop by and visit. Blonde, popular cheerleaders, they would parade around our fourth grade classroom and select a boy and plant a kiss on his cheek, leaving a big, red lipstick imprint. I used to just sit there, half grateful the distraction was keeping me off the teacher’s radar for a few minutes and half annoyed the circus was allowed to continue. I often wonder what the fallout from such a scene would be today?
I sometimes think about my fourth grade teacher and imagine myself sending her a letter. A letter much like this blog. I would tell her that I graduated high school an honor student with thousands of dollars in scholarships. I would tell her that I went on to college and earned a degree. I would tell her that I have a career, a husband, kids, family, friends… I would tell her I have everything I ever dreamed of. That I’m so, so happy. That I owe some of my success to those who educated me, but none of it to her. And, unfortunately for her, much like Taylor Swift and her songs, my blogs are my therapy and you just never know when you might wind up the subject of one.
Most of all, I would tell her that I’m enough. I’m good enough and I’m smart enough.
The snarky voice in my head followed that last line with “and dog gone it, people like me.” And then that same snarky voice followed it up with, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.” That snarky voice then snickered and laughed until it was beat down by the serious voice reminding it what happened to me was not funny and the snarky voice is just over-compensating with sarcasm. And yes, I would tell her that while in college–that place I’m sure she thought I’d never be–I took a few psych classes.
But, seriously. What I didn’t know in fourth grade is that she wasn’t enough. She wasn’t nice enough or good enough or smart enough or even human enough to realize just how long her words and actions would follow a young, impressionable me. Almost like a tail, pinned to me for life.
I would tell her that I wish I hadn’t given her that power… that I wish I had listened to my parents and believed what they said about me. I would tell her that I now know teachers aren’t there to suck the life out of students. I let her do that to me and I let her make me believe that’s just the way it was supposed to be; that I deserved it. I let her wilt me.
I let her break me.
But not forever. Because, you see, I grew up. It might’ve taken years to sink in, but eventually the good and positive things family and friends told me began to take over and I realized she didn’t have the power to make me be anything or to keep me from being something.
This horrible-awful-no-good-very-bad-person did teach me one thing: the impact an educator has on a child. Every time I step foot in a school building my heart flutters and my mind wanders back to time when I dreaded facing her each day. I now know there are more good teachers than bad ones. Today, I have great respect for the teachers in my life and those who lead my children’s classrooms. They have a big, huge job. They’re raising my kids, too. I think most teachers today realize what an awesome responsibility that is. And those who get it–those who build kids up instead of tearing them down–they’re heroes for sure.