Thursday, August 16, 2012

Recognizing A Teachable Moment

When I was a little girl, my favorite day of the year (after Christmas and my birthday) was the first day of school. It was like being given the keys to the toy store and candy store combined, but better, because school was a marvelously magical place where I could learn about everything. School was an ebullient delight, and I tried to never miss a day, and would plead with my mother to let me go to school when I was sick so that I didn't miss out on a scrumptious tidbit of knowledge. No day at school was boring, but some days were so full of wonder that I didn't want them to end.

Perhaps the biggest excitement each year was finding out who was going to be my teacher because the teacher made the whole year good or bad. Back then, it seemed like a complete mystery how students were paired with teachers. Looking back now, though, I can see a method to what seemed at the time their madness.

Out of all my teachers, I only had three duds--my kindergarten teacher, my 2nd grade teacher, and my 4th grade teacher. What do I mean by duds? They were boring and uninspiring, and it is my guess that they didn't like children. Fortunately, my terrible teachers were followed by gems in 1st, 3rd, and 5th. 

My kindergarten teacher didn't believe I could read when I told her I could, so she put me in front of the class with a book and said she was going to teach "Miss Smartypants a lesson" about lying (interesting that she thought humiliating a five year old was teaching a lesson--goes to the heart of her character). Well, I read the book aloud, with no errors, and she blew up. She called my mom and read her the riot act. My poor mom; she hadn't done anything wrong. She didn't really teach me to read; I more or less learned on my own. Fortunately, I was seriously sick most of the rest of the kindergarten school year, so I was spared my teacher's loathing (and I had the great joy of my grandma reading books to me hours at a time--heaven).

1st grade brought Miss Nichols. To my six year old eyes, she was a wonder--tall, beautiful, and smart. Plus, she seemed to like children. She quickly discovered the readers in our class and put us in a separate group to read books of our choosing, after we had finished the "Dick and Jane" books, of course. But Miss Nichols, along with my mom, taught me something even more important than "book learning;" they taught me not to lie.

All the children in my class wanted Miss Nichols to come over to their house, and I was no exception. My parents were not too social and said no when I asked if I could invite my teacher over for a visit. Undeterred, I invited her anyway. Well, wouldn't you know it, I was in the shower when Miss Nichols arrived. When I stepped out of the shower, my furious mother confronted me in the bathroom. She told me to put on my pajamas and commanded me to come apologize for lying to Miss Nichols. I was mortified. I couldn't tell her I lied. I pleaded with my mom to cover for me and back me up, but my mom said my punishment for lying was to confess to Miss Nichols that I had lied and ask her and my mom for forgiveness. You can imagine my agony and torment. How could I walk into the living room and face Miss Nichols, and in pajamas no less? Somehow, I summoned up my courage and walked into the living room and apologized.

I thought I was home free, but, no, Miss Nichols, with a nod to my mother, asked me to sit and have a cookie and some lemonade and explain to her why I had lied. It all came out that "fat Margo" bragged and gloated that Miss Nichols liked her best in our class because Miss Nichols visited Margo's home for dinner. I explained that I wanted Miss Nichols to like me too, so I figured that I had to have her over for a visit. Miss Nichols tried somewhat unsuccessfully to hide her smile, and she remonstrated with me not to call Margo fat (though she was) and she told me that she liked students best who were honest and loved to learn. Really? I could do that. I already loved to learn, and now I had an incentive not to lie--Miss Nichols would like me if I were honest. That lesson has stuck with me all these years.

The less said about my 2nd and 4th grade teachers the better. They were a disgrace to their profession. Thankfully, they were aberrations. Miss Hayashi, my 3rd grade teacher, and Miss Copeland, my 5th grade teacher, however, were shining stars in my galaxy of teachers. They made me and all the other students in my class love learning so much that every day was pure joy, and I tried, with amazing success, once I could choose my teachers, to have some of the finest high school teachers and college professors who have ever taught in a classroom. I liked some of my college professors so much that lifelong friendships sprang up, some decades old, and some just a few months new, but all treasured.

Now, in just a few days, I will be standing in front of two new classes full of students, and I hope that I will inspire my students, like my best teachers inspired me, to learn life lessons as well as book lessons.

Take care,


For those of you who might be wondering, as of today I have sold 105 copies of my book Dueling With Dementia: Not The Love Story We Planned. One thing that is exceptionally thrilling is that readers in seven countries (Ireland, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, Austria, Iran, and the USA) have read and liked my book. That is really humbling.

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