Yesterday, I read a post at All Access Pass about how teachers leave impressions on their students. I can’t tell you how much I agree with the post. Each adult, especially those in positions of authority leave lasting impressions: some good and some not so good. I’d like to relate a story of a first grade teacher who left a lasting impression on my youngest daughter. The impression was such a strong one that my daughter can vividly recall it to this day; twenty one years later.
One day in early February, my daughter jumped off the bus at the end of our driveway, ran past me and quickly took something out of her book bag and threw it away. Thinking she was acting rather strangely, I went to the trash can and picked out of the trash a paper “groundhog” that she had cut out and colored at school. I turned and held up the ground hog to her and asked her why she wanted to throw it away. “It’s ugly,” she said. “I hate it.”
“Well, I absolutely love it. I’m hanging it up on the refrigerator,” I replied as I cut a piece of tape and hung it to the refrigerator.
“No you’re not. You hate it. I hate it. It’s ugly. Throw it away.”
“Absolutely not!” I replied firmly.
The conversation was over and she went off to her bedroom to change clothes. She never mentioned the ground hog again until her friend since birth, Heath, and his mother came over for a visit later that evening. Since Heath’s mother and I were close friends, the children saw each other frequently.
Heath’s mother and I settled into tea and conversation when my daughter’s young friend ran into the kitchen to tell his mother some exciting news and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the groundhog taped up on my white refrigerator door. “Ohhhhh…we weren’t suppose to bring our ground hogs home, you’re going to get into trouble” he said to my daughter in a sing-song fashion as he turned around to see if she was following him into the kitchen. Suddenly his demeanor changed as he said, “Oh, that’s right, you were allowed to bring yours home.”
I stopped talking to Heath’s mother so I could ease drop more clearly on the children. “What in the heck was the deal with this darn groundhog? Was it going to come to life and eat us all while we were asleep?” I stood up and un-taped the groundhog and called both of the children to my side. “Which one of you is going to tell me the story behind this groundhog?” I asked both of them. Both of these innocent six year old children stood silently for what seemed to be a long time before until Heath spoke up. “She was allowed to bring hers home, none of the rest of us were allowed.” Still confused by the whole situation I asked him why my daughter was allowed to bring her groundhog home and the rest of the class was not. Waiting for an answer that I thought would involve my daughter acting out at school or doing something terrible with her groundhog that would make her teacher want to send her home with her groundhog in tow, I was heartbroken with the next words I heard Heath speak.
“Our teacher said her groundhog is too ugly to hang up with the rest of our groundhogs so she let her bring it home.” My daughter eyes filled with tears. I looked at her then at Heath and then at her again.
“Is that true?”
She just nodded her head and began to weep a little bit harder. I froze. I hugged her but didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t take back somebody else’s words. I couldn’t make right what a teacher had made wrong.
When I regained my voice and the anger and resentment started to build in me I asked Heath to tell me exactly what had happened. He was reluctant at first to spill his guts about his teacher but the friendship he and my daughter shared won out. He explained to me that each child was given a picture of a ground hog that they were to color and then cut so that the teacher could hang it on the wall for when the parents came to meet the teachers. He said that my daughter was having a hard time cutting her ground hog because the scissors she had didn’t work. (She was using right handed scissors and she is left handed.) He said the teacher got real mad and grabbed her ground hog and held it up so we could all see how ugly her ground hog was. He said she kept saying, “Isn’t this the ugliest ground hog?” Then he said the teacher told her she could take hers home because it was just too ugly to look at.
My hands curled into fists as I listened. My lips tightened. I could feel my whole body tense. I had made my plans. The next morning, the teacher and I were going to have a little face to face and she was going to see things from a whole new perspective. My husband, being the voice of reason after I explained to him what had transpired, asked me to wait until the end of the week when I had a pre-arranged parent teacher conference scheduled and I would be a little less angry. (He was hoping I’d be a little less angry.) Much to my chagrin I complied with his wishes.
That Friday couldn’t arrive soon enough. I was not less angry. I was, however; more in control of my emotions. I walked into my conference with confidence and a smile. I sat and nodded my head so sweetly as this “teacher” told me how wonderful my child was. She went on and on about how much of a joy it was to have her in her class room. Her words ran out of her mouth like Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup over a stack of hot cakes. It was incredible.
I stood up and walked the short distance to all the beautiful groundhogs that were hanging on the locker doors. “Did the chidren do these groundhogs?” I asked just as sweetly as I could.
“Why yes, aren’t they adorable?” the teacher replied.
I nodded my head looking at each and every one until I came to the last groundhog. I turned to her and said, “I don’t see my daughter’s groundhog. Where is hers?”
“Oh, she was sick the day we did those. She wasn’t in class.”
“Really?” I replied. “I don’t recall her missing any school this nine weeks.”
“Yes, she missed this day. I asked her if she wanted to do one but she said no.”
“Really?” I once again replied. “Hmm, funny.” I turned and looked her square in the eye. “Wait, I know where her ground hog is. It’s on my refrigerator at home.”
“Oh, that’s right. She brought it home but she wasn’t suppose to,” explained the teacher.
I shook my head. “No, that isn’t what happened. She was allowed to bring it home because you told her it was too ugly to hang up with the groundhogs the other children did.”
“She’s not telling you the truth. She’s lying.”
I smirked at the teacher and said, “You know, I might have believed that but she wasn’t the one who told me about her ugly groundhog.” I had her. Busted! Get out of this one you fine specimen of a teacher.
The teacher, in all her babbling glory, attempted every explanation to ease her discomfort. I looked at her and didn’t say a word as she babbled on and on. She knew I wasn’t buying a thing she said, and I didn’t have to tell her. The truth was out there in the form of an innocent boy’s words.
After her attempt at explanations I folded my arms across my chest and said to her, “Care to try again because I’m afraid I just don’t find you credible at this point.”
Was this teacher done? No. She went on to tell me how many times my daughter did NOT wear a dress to school. She told me that my daughter lets her friend Heath carry her books for her; and what is worse, SHE carries HIS books at times too. She went on to tell me how she gets Heath’s coat for him if he is running behind at the end of the day and he does the same for her. She explained that she’s a tom-boy and likes boy things. She hinted that her playing basketball, baseball, football, and tag with the boys would probably lead her down the road to (gasp) homosexuality.
She was in deep. The more she rambled the more I couldn’t believe that she was molding young minds. The thought sickened me. It still does.
Years later how does this affect my daughter? Every time I asked her to cut things using a scissors she tells me she can’t because she has “cutting” issues. We smile at each other because we both know what that means but the reality is…after 21 years she really does avoid cutting things out with scissors.
So, what kind of grade do I give this teacher?