Thursday, November 7, 2013

One Bad Teacher

The great thing about a writing prompt instead of a writing assignment is that you can let the prompt take you where it will. Today's prompt was "What was the last letter you wrote by hand?" As I began to think about this prompt, memory led me somewhere else entirely. Bear with me, blogging group friends, because sometimes you just have to get the words out. This is one of those times.

At the end of each school year, I write thank you notes to my children's teachers. I'm always grateful for their relationship with my child, but certain teachers are special. They notice something about your child you may have missed, provided insight you didn't have, or help your child through a difficult time. In those instances, I write a rare lengthy handwritten letter to the teacher explaining how meaningful they have been in my child's life. These are the teachers my children will remember.

Unfortunately, a bad experience can sear into your memory in a way the good often do not. I feel a physical warmth and fondness when I remember certain teachers who were special to me when I was a student, but I still feel a deep, sharp, visceral anger about a few words spoken by a teacher during the sixth grade.
My sixth grade English class writing journal. Thanks, Mom, for saving everything.
I made a new friend in fifth grade, and by sixth grade we were inseparable. In the tumultuous period we now call the tween years, her friendship became my rock.

We had much in common, but one difference stood out in the classroom. I was a teacher's pet; I got good grades and didn't cause trouble. My friend was a good student too, but she was more of an independent thinker than I was at that age. She wouldn't respect an adult--even a teacher--because she should; people needed to earn her respect. When Mrs. N didn't earn that respect, my friend questioned her authority. It was not well-received.

On the way to lunch one November day in 1982, Mrs. N asked me to stay back. When we were alone, she told me that I was a leader--a strange thing to say to an awkward eleven-year-old who has only a few friends and certainly no followers to speak of. She went on to criticize my friend and our friendship. In so many words, she told me that my friend was a bad egg who would only bring me down.
Journal entry from November 12, 1982, in which I wrote about the conversation with Mrs. N.
At my wedding eighteen years later, that bad egg was my maid of honor. I spoke to her on the phone only two days ago. Her friendship has been the longest and one of the most meaningful of my life.

When my wedding announcement appeared in my small town newspaper, complete with the traditional list of attendants, I hoped Mrs. N would see it. I hoped she would remember how she'd criticized this person I love. I hoped she'd recall that she'd urged me to end the friendship. I hoped she'd realize what a poor, ill-informed, idiotic decision she made to keep me after class that day.

Most of all, I hoped Mrs. N--by then long into retirement--realized that criticizing one student to another is not only bad manners but bad teaching. Her job was to educate us about academics, but she also should have been teaching us to be good people. At that she failed, and I'm still angry about it thirty-one years later.

Please head over to Baddest Mother Ever to see what Ashley and my other blogger friends had to say on the topic of handwritten letters. 


  1. Sounds like you were a bit more of a renegade free-thinker than she pegged you for! It's amazing how a few small words spoken inappropriately can change the course of a life. Good for you for being rebellious :)