About 2 weeks ago, I got a Facebook friend request from my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Davis.
“Call me Rita!” she said in her initial email.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I just can’t bring myself to call you Rita!” I said in reply.
I was excited to be back in touch with her. 3rd grade was a particularly hard year for me. My home life was a wreck. My mom was going through a rough patch. It was hard for her raising 2 children on her own but unfortunately, we were often the brunt of all of her frustrations. I forgive her and understand as an adult.
But I still can’t look back at that year and not cringe at the kind of student I was to Mrs. Davis.
Too many times, I remember her having to ask me to get back to work. I’d be sitting in class in a complete daze. “Daydreaming” was what she called it. Rarely did I ever finish my work during the school day.
Homework was a regular task for me.
Mrs. Davis called my mother often for parent-teacher conferences. Notes were often sent home, my mom disciplined me, Mrs. Davis disciplined me; but it often only yielded temporary results. I’d do really well for a few weeks then go back to my dark place.
“I don’t understand, Christina, you are so smart….there is no reason you can’t do the work, you’re just not applying yourself.” Mrs. Davis would gently plead.
And she was right.
I was at the top of my reading group. When I did my work, I got A’s. My poor grades were merely a result of incomplete work and my own personal demons that had nothing to do with my intellect.
My mom was often at her wit’s end, which certainly didn’t help matters at home. One would think it would be incentive to do better, if nothing else, to keep my mother’s temper at bay.
I don’t remember what I was thinking when I would go into my dazes. I just remember looking around, watching everything that everyone else was doing and eventually hearing Mrs. Davis tell me to “get back to work!”
It would have been easy for me to buck responsibility and blame the teacher but thankfully, I full acknowledged my behavior. I miraculously passed 3rd grade in spite of my shortcomings and with each grade thereafter my grades got better and better and Mrs. Davis always kept up on me. Even through high school. Her son was in my graduating class. I’m sure she was relieved when I walked across that podium the year I was actually slated to graduate.
When I went on to college, she was even more relieved.
The years passed and intermittantly, she would get updates from my mom. They ended up going to church together. One of her sons actually moved to Alaska as well.
“Mrs. Davis says Hello” my mom often tells me. And that makes me happy.
I believe that Mrs. Davis saw through what appeared to be an apathetic attitude toward school work. She saw my situation for what it was and acted on that. I think that’s why she was also stern but fair with me. She knew I needed the discipline to stay on task but the compassion so that I didn’t give up on myself.
I always carried that with me.
In fact, I dare say I owe a lot of my later school success to her. In a lot of ways, I felt like I had to make it up to her.
Now that we’re back in touch, we talk more like friends rather than mentor and student. She makes fun of grammatical mistakes that she makes (”I’m a retired teacher, I’m so embarassed!”) and I always reassure her that I could care less (”Exactly. You’re RETIRED! Give yourself a break!”). Howard often sees me smiling and laughing while bantering with her.
We’ve talked about my childhood and what the real story behind it was. Nothing of which surprised her. She speaks as the rational adult and reminds me that my mom really did the best she could but at the same time, she understood why I did what I did during those days.
She also tells me many times how very proud of me both she and my mom are.
I know this deep down and it humbles me. But it sure doesn’t hurt to hear it too.