February 19, 2009

My Favorite Teacher

My 5th grader has a favorite teacher. There isn't a day of the week she doesn't come home with a story that starts with, Mr. E said... She could write this teacher's biography and be president of his fan club. He inspires her and she learns more in the 45 minutes a day she is with him than the entire rest of her day, because she is engaged. It's thrilling.

Since becoming a parent, I have seen both good and bad teachers, but I resist mightily to be one of "those parents". Even with the bad teachers, I tell the kids, someday you may have a bad boss. You have to learn how to deal with both good and bad authority figures. That's a life lesson, too.

Sometimes, a teacher just knows how to grab into the very soul of a student and bring out their very best. The most special kind of teacher. I had a teacher in 8th grade, Mrs. P. She was my English teacher, and she was who I wanted to grow up to be. She was classy, elegant, and had a sense of irony and humor that didn't go over my head. I can still see her chic wardrobe and mirthful smile. Oh more than anything, I wanted to be her.

We had an assignment to write about encountering a lion. To write about it as descriptively as possible. I wanted to impress her. I wanted to prove I was worthy of carrying on her legacy. I labored over that assignment. I poured every ounce of creativity I could into that paper. She handed them back. I was baffled by my grade. She marked it with... a ... "P".

If my eyes had been a magnifying glass, I probably would have burned a hole in the paper, as I tried to see if it was a sloppy B, or the A missing a tail. Heaven forbid, I prayed it wasn't a messy F. But, there was no question about it, it was a P. Could that be a code for her last name? A "P"? What the HECK sort of grade is a P? I was confused and fought back the tears. It wasn't an A, was all I knew. I must not have impressed her as I hoped.

I tried to pay attention in class but I was mentally rehearsing how to gather my courage to approach her after class and ask, "what does this "P" mean?" As much as I worshipped her, I was also terribly intimidated by this amazing woman. I stumbled over how to approach her. With a combination of relief and trepidation, I shyly walked up to her desk after the bell rang. Mrs. P? I don't understand my grade. What is a "P"?

She looked up from her gradebook and made direct eye contact with me as the dimples on the side of her face deepened.

"P is for Promising."

That was all she said. But it was all she needed to say. Her words were the first time I believed I would write, and I've tried to keep that promise.

She was my favorite teacher, ever.

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