I just read a brilliant piece by Charles M. Blow from the New York Times. Blow was driven to write the article because “he wanted to celebrate a group that is often maligned: teachers.”
What touched me so much about his piece was his account of Mrs. Thomas, a teacher who he described as changing the direction of his life.
The first teacher to clear those hurdles in my life was Mrs. Thomas.
From the first through third grades, I went to school in a neighboring town because it was the school where my mother got her first teaching job. I was not a great student. I was slipping in and out of depression from a tumultuous family life that included the recent divorce of my parents. I began to grow invisible. My teachers didn’t seem to see me nor I them. (To this day, I can’t remember any of their names.)
My work began to suffer so much that I was temporarily placed in the “slow” class. No one even talked to me about it. They just sent a note. I didn’t believe that I was slow, but I began to live down to their expectations.
When I entered the fourth grade, my mother got a teaching job in our hometown and I came back to my hometown school. I was placed in Mrs. Thomas’s class.
There I was, a little nothing of a boy, lost and slumped, flickering in and out of being.
She was a pint-sized firecracker of a woman, with short curly hair, big round glasses set wider than her face, and a thin slit of a mouth that she kept well-lined with red lipstick.
On the first day of class, she gave us a math quiz. Maybe it was the nervousness of being the “new kid,” but I quickly jotted down the answers and turned in the test — first.
“Whoa! That was quick. Blow, we’re going to call you Speedy Gonzales.” She said it with a broad approving smile, and the kind of eyes that warmed you on the inside.
She put her arm around me and pulled me close while she graded my paper with the other hand. I got a couple wrong, but most of them right.
I couldn’t remember a teacher ever smiling with approval, or putting their hand around me, or praising my performance in any way.
It was the first time that I felt a teacher cared about me, saw me or believed in me. It lit a fire in me. I never got a bad grade again. I figured that Mrs. Thomas would always be able to see me if I always shined. I always wanted to make her as proud of me as she seemed to be that day. And, she always was.
In high school, the district sent a man to test our I.Q.’s. Turns out that not only was I not slow, but mine and another boy’s I.Q. were high enough that they created a gifted-and-talented class just for the two of us with our own teacher who came to our school once a week. I went on to graduate as the valedictorian of my class.
And all of that was because of Mrs. Thomas, the firecracker of a teacher who first saw me and smiled with the smile that warmed me on the inside.
So to all of the Mrs. Thomases out there, all the teachers struggling to reach lost children like I was once, I just want to say thank you. You deserve our admiration, not our contempt.