Writer's Block: Teacher of the year @ 11:22 am
Have you ever had a teacher who made a profound difference in your life? How did they influence and/or inspire you?
Yes. Mrs. Philips in 8th grade.
Some back story is necessary.
When I was in fourth grade I had finished an English test early (whether or not it was because I aced the material or didn't take the test seriously I don't remember, though English was always my strongest subject). Bored out of my mind, I decided it would be a good idea to stick a paper clip into the electrical socket. I had this fascination with electricity and fire (which in retrospect was rather suicidal) when I was a boy; I remember once swaying repeatedly in front of a night light during the afternoon when I discovered that my shadow triggered the sensor to turn the light on. I did this over and over and over until finally there was a pop and a fizzle and the night light stopped working...as well as the top socket it was plugged into. In my eight year old mind I thought I had "hypnotized" the night light and had special powers. I was an imaginative, if not somewhat destructive kid. I also suffered from ADD.
So anyway, back to the electrical socket in school. Of course, as soon as the paper clip entered the electrical socket there was a pop, a fizzle and some fire that thankfully didn't last long. The section of the wall where the electrical outlet turned black. It was a stupid, dangerous thing to do but as a child all I was driven by more by curiosity than anything. I was unharmed (miraculously).
This single act stuck with me even into college. Over the years I'd run into people who, upon recognizing my name would ask "Aren't you that kid that stuck a paper clip in the electrical socket?" which was usually followed by "Didn't you burn the school down?" or "I heard the entire city block lost power for a day!". I had unintentionally created my own urban legend.
Anyway, registering my wanton act of electrical experimentation a sure sign that I was in some way mentally handicapped, I was placed into special education. This involved me being put in another school as the elementary school I attended wasn't equipped to handle kids with special needs. So I finished fourth grade and fifth grade in my own special classroom with other kids with learning disabilities/behavioral problems. I can honestly say that, for the most part, I was the best of the bunch when it came to behavioral problems. Kids threw chairs, threatened teachers with various sharp, pointy things, etc, etc. I had to take Ritalin during the day to get my schoolwork done but my Mother, to her credit, refused to put me on it in the afternoon and over the weekends so I could just be a kid.
So, I go into middle school and start the 6th grade in a special education class. By 7th grade I was put in what was called "Resource" and allowed me more interaction with other kids by attending certain classes (like English and Science) with the rest of the "general population" whereas previously I only saw other kids in gym class. Mrs. Delk from 6th grade and Mrs. Axenfield in 7th were all fine teachers and bastions of patience with us "special needs" kids.
However, it wasn't until 8th grade that the teacher who had the biggest effect on my life and I would cross paths. Mrs. Philips was a very compassionate if somewhat emotional teacher who was very involved with her students. She wanted to see them succeed and wanted to give us what we needed to show everybody else we weren't so very different from the other kids. None of us in Resource suffered from any actual physical or mental illnesses, we just had certain difficulties that other kids didn't.
I'm somewhat ashamed to admit that at first, I hated Mrs. Philips. I resented her enthusiasm in pushing me to achieve and that she cared so much about my well-being and my future. I know I made her life miserable; I remember this one time when she pulled me out of our classroom and I was stonewalling her and being apathetic and she started to cry in frustration and couldn't understand why I was so defiant to somebody who was wanting to help me and prepare me for high school and the rest of my life.
Yeah, I was a little shit, a punk. I don't think she ever complained to my parents...trust me I'd still remember the ass-beating I'd have gotten from both my Mother and my Father if they knew the hell I put her through.
After that though, it finally sunk in what she was trying to do and my walls came down. I can't say why I was so defiant and resistant to her. Likewise, I'm not sure what it was that changed my tune, maybe it was the shame at making her cry, but for the rest of the year I was different. I paid closer attention in class, I showed her a lot more respect and oddly enough, the importance of what she was trying to teach us sunk in.
It's rare that I've seen a teacher with that much heart, persistence and compassion, especially for somebody like me.
Of course, the depth of what she taught me then, which to this day I have trouble putting into satisfactory words to explain stuck with me throughout high school and college and probably the rest of my life. Maybe it was realizing that other people outside of my family actually cared about me and what I did also effected them. Perhaps it was the skills to succeed in school and the need for discipline that she instilled. Maybe all of the above. What I know and can explain sufficiently is that in 8th grade Mrs. Philips turned me in a better direction and her teaching, compassion and love marked the beginning of a change in me.
Sometimes people leave such a strong impression in your life that you never forget them, even if you can't articulate precisely the details of what that impression is.
Here's to you, Mrs. Philips, wherever you are...and thank you.