School days, school days

We all have memories of our school days. Most of them are probably good, with the occasional bad thrown in. I had one teacher who changed my life. The initial attitude toward me was terrible, but even so, it lit a fire in me.

It was the first day of my third grade year. My mom had dressed me in a new outfit, new shoes, lacy anklets, styled my hair and scrubbed me until I was probably glowing. I was scared to be starting a new school again, but at the same time I loved school.

When my mom enrolled me and dropped me off at the office, my new teacher was summoned to come down and get me. She looked me over, then grabbed me around the wrist and started pulling me down the hallway without even talking to me.

Another teacher who was passing said, “Oh, is this your new student? How cute!”

My teacher’s response was, “Just another dumb hillbilly,” and drug me toward the classroom.

To say I made up my mind not to like her is an understatement. I didn’t know what the word “hillbilly” meant, but I knew I wasn’t dumb. I made up my mind to show her exactly what I could do.

We used to have to do reading lessons from kits called SRA Reading in addition to our reading books. We read independently and answered the questions. Periodically we had reading tests to check our progress. I was the only child in the class to get a perfect score every time. It meant something to me to prove to her and to myself that I was not dumb.

After a while, she was dragging me around to the other teachers, patting me on the head, and telling them that I was her star pupil who made perfect scores in SRA. None of that could erase the injury she dealt me on the first day.

Other than that. and a couple of other unhappy events during school years, I think of friends and fun through the years. I remember the relationships from school that continued outside of school and the great times we had together. I always wished I could live in the mountains as a child and do all the wonderful things at school I heard my cousins talk about. It seemed like a magical, happy, free-bird kind of place where no one ever called you, “hillbilly.”

My third grade teacher was an important part of who I became. She was strict but made sure we studied hard and learned our material. Her low opinion of me caused me to be my best.

When I started following a dream to teach, I was determined to be a good teacher that gave everyone a chance and who never judged anyone by what they wore or where they came from. Although I stuck to the lessons set forth in our curriculum, I often used the “hands-on” method before it became a proven asset to learning. I tried to find a place for each child to fit in if they wanted to and gave them the opportunity to shine. Some who weren’t great at math were incredible artists. Some who weren’t good readers loved to sing. Many who had problems with paperwork were fantastic at hands-on learning.

When school starts back every fall, I always hope that each child will know that their teacher likes them and is going to believe the best in them. With my two grandchildren in school, one in first and one in kindergarten, I know how excited and anxious they have been for their first day of classes, and how concerned they are about being liked.

With parents and teachers working together in each child’s behalf, school should be one of the safest, happiest places they ever go. For the rest of their lives, they should be able to look back at school days with fondness.

Reach longtime Enterprise columnist Judith Victoria Hensley at judith99@bellsouth.net or on Facebook. Check out her blog: One Step Beyond the Door.