Monday, May 23, 2011

Are You a Teacher?

I get asked that a lot.

When I was younger, I'd get all offended because I thought the speaker was implying that I was frumpy and unfashionable. Basically, uncool.

I was still set on becoming the next Anna Wintour. So I was all black, severe diet, severe hair (Ha!), very focused on my career as an editor.

Sigh... kids.


Now when I'm asked that question, I have a very different response.

I actually did teach my first year out of college. I was 23, and I taught tenth grade non-honors English at my alma mater, Scotlandville Magnet High School in Baton Rouge.

My sophomore English students were the absolute best--we had a blast. But I also had to teach one class of seniors, and it was hard for me. I was too close to their age, and discipline was a problem.

And I'm not very tall. That does matter when you're scolding an 18 year-old boy who's looking down at you, grinning.

Anyway, so last weekend at our yard sale, a poor black lady walked up with her son. He looked about middle-school aged, but he was as big as me. And he was constantly humming under his breath as he shoved through the stacks of books, toys, movies, whatnot. Very bull in the china closet.

The lady tried to direct his attention, but he was focused.

I've shared with you guys about my first boss as an editor Susan and her autistic son Seamus. This boy reminded me very much of how Seamus acted. (If you're interested in that post, here's the link).

This boy could speak, so I called to him, "Here, look at this."

I had one of those fridge-phonics toys where you put the letter in the little square box and press it down. A song plays that teaches the child the letter sounds.

Some of you probably have it: "E says E, and E says eh. Every letter makes a sound..."

The boy was ecstatic! He grabbed the toy out of my hands, and I felt his strength. I glanced at his mom and remembered Susan's biggest fear was that one day she'd have to put Seamus in a home.

She had tears in her eyes when she told me that.

You see, autistic boys grow just like every other boy, and for a single mom, their tantrums can turn into inadvertant physical injury.

Anyway, he was smiling, so excited. He wanted to press it and press it and press it. I took his hand and said, "Here. Watch."

Then I took another letter out of the bag, showed it to him, then showed him how to fit it in the slot. The toy was made for preschoolers, so it wasn't hard. Then I pressed it. "O says O, and O says ooo..."

He yelped with glee and then grabbed me in the biggest, hardest hug. He almost knocked me down. I laughed. His mother was so apologetic. It was Okay, I said.

Then she said it: "You must be a teacher."

I smiled and shook my head. I wasn't, I said, although I had taught one year a long time ago.

It was an interesting moment, and it made me think about several things. First, how stupid I was in my 20+-year-old estimation of teachers. But also how every relationship in your life leaves you with a particular understanding of other people and their individual fears.

My writer-brain kicked in, and I had so many potential character ideas. The poor mother. The big, strong mentally challenged son who responds to the smallest kindness. Her patience. The response they're probably expecting or used to getting. How my reaction could've changed the scene.

In closing, it's the last week of school here, so I'd like to say a big THANK YOU to the teachers we've had at Spanish Fort Elementary School.

Not only are they some of the most fashion-forward teachers I've ever seen, they love their students, and they're the best I've encountered.

I'm honored to be mistaken for one.

Have a great week, reader-friends. Til Thursday~ <3

54 comments:

Vicki Rocho said...

We have one of those alphabet things -- hiding because you can only hear the song SO many times before ripping your hair out.

Anyhow, what a very cool moment for you -- it's great to see kids' faces light up like that.

I'd like to add my praise to teachers. My kids have had some great ones over the years, but my son's team of teachers/helpers is AMAZING! They perform mini-miracles with him every day and I'm so grateful!

salarsenッ said...

Aw...this is a very heartfelt post. All groups are stereotyped at some point. Don't knock yourself out for those years, and you're view of teachers. It's funny where we get our misconceptions and such. I think it's so amazing what you did with that boy. :)

Sarah said...

What a lovely, lovely post. Stereotypes and other assumptions are the things we use to understand the world (though they're so often faulty!), and it's great to hear stories about times when an individual person or interaction changes things, makes them real. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story!

Laura Pauling said...

That's wonderful. I'm a teacher (not currently working) but it doesn't matter. The teaching skills never get rusty esp. when working with children. There's just a certain way to approach kids that are different ages. My stereotype of teacher is a frumpy woman wearing a duck sweatshirt. I refuse to be that person! Ever.

Pk Hrezo said...

And after all, if you're a mom, then you're a teacher. I'm so glad you took the time to show that boy some attention. My neighbor across the street is a single mom with a Down syndrome son. I always feel so bad for her because he's such a handfull, but such a good hearted guy all the same. I included a character in one of my stories that's just like him.... so fascinating. So there's your "potential character idea." Great minds think alike! :)

Jessica Bell said...

That must have been such a wonderful moment for you. What a beautiful post. I was a teacher once too. And I had to take my nose ring out so as 'not to scare the students.' But one day I forgot to take it out, and they all became SO silent. Usually I had to yell to quieten them down. (oh, yeah, the kids were like 6 years old I forgot to mention!) Andyway, they were fascinated. LOL. One of the kids asked their mum if they could get one after class. hehehe.

Ellie said...

A beautiful post and touching moment of realisation for you. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Ellie Garratt

DEZMOND said...

This was a touching story.
I was also very young when I started working as a teacher. I was 25 and my students were 18 :) It was a blast, and eventhough I left teaching I still have all of those students from back then at my Facebook :)

Summer Ross said...

I have a friend who is a single dad of two, and his oldest, a boy, is autistic. He's very focused on octagons, specially stop signs.

I have never really wanted to be a teacher but I do respect what they do. Have a fairy great week!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

What a tremendous compliment! To you and to teachers, that your simple, profound act of kindness makes you one of them. I couldn't agree more.

Also, I can't resist, because it's the funniest thing: Bull in a China Shop, by Mythbusters

Tracy said...

Leigh,
What a great post and it made me feel proud that I can say, 'I am a teacher'
most days, I really am...I am so thankful you were there for that mother to see her son in a different light and not to be embarassed of who he was; good for you!
...good for you...

Lady Gwen said...

That was a reallly great post. When I was studying English, I always got asked if I was going to be a teacher - so many times that it actually started to annoy me! I have great respect for teachers, but I never wanted to teach. I only wanted to write - funny how people have such strange reactions when they hear that!

Colene Murphy said...

What a beautiful story!! So touching and so good of you. You're such a kind intelligent person.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

This was, indeed, a great post. All who love are teachers ... so few are tough enough, strong enough, to keep on loving and caring as the years take their toll on us. Thank you for staying tough enough, strong enough to keep on caring, to keep on loving, Roland

aspiring_x said...

ohmygoodness! this is the most touching post ever! teachers rock! (well- the ones who care that is)
what a sweetie pie you are!

Janet Johnson said...

What a sweet story. You WOULD make a great teacher.

I'm sure that mother was SO appreciative. :)

and I'll add my two cents . . . thank you to all you teachers! You are amazing!

GigglesandGuns said...

Very good teachers are few and far between. Bless them all!

I wonder if you realize the wonderful feeling you gave to mother and son. Blessings to all three of you!

Old Kitty said...

Awww what a great teacher you would have been and were and are - well you taught me about kindness and consideration here!! Yay!! This is such a sweet inspirational story, thanks for sharing! take care
x

Ella said...

I loved this post! It always amazes me when we open our eyes and see the view, how differently the focus is and can be. I have been in similar shoes. Mental handicapped people tend to reach out to me. I was young when it started to happen and it scared me a bit. I soon got over it; I can't treat them mean, like my peers. There lives are already altered and difficult. I can't process even thinking about being mean or closed off. I think we all our teachers, if and when we chose to be~ xXx <3

erica and christy said...

Thanks, Leigh. I needed this post today. I'm a teacher and I'm feeling a little deflated, questioning whether I want to continue on in my carreer. I'm hoping it's just end of the year exhaustion, but this post made me remember what I'm supposed to feel like. Your act of kindness was lovely and inspirational. christy

Jemi Fraser said...

I got teary! I'm so glad you were able to find that boy such a wondeful toy. What a thrill :) You're a sweetie!

Carolyn Abiad said...

What a special post! I know you're one of the most caring people, but this really illustrates it for us. <3

LTM said...

@Laura--Hey! There you go! Teachers work so hard and touch so many lives. And the good ones you remember FOREVER! It's all about caring and wanting to help. (You're right. That's a silly stereotype! ;o)

@PK--There you go! I thought about the characters, and I guess it's a little "Mice & Men," but just thinking about how characters interact and how a small change can alter everything... it's interesting to me. :o) ((hug))

@Summer--Thanks, honey, you too!!! And it's true, parents of special-needs kids are very special themselves. xoxo

@LG--Hey, thanks! That's exactly how I was when I was younger. I didn't want to be a teacher, I wanted to be a writer! Well, at that point, I wanted to be an editor.... But I was telling someone else, now that I have kids, I realize how much a good teacher means to parents, to kids, to everyone. These guys are SO powerful. And underappreciated. ((hug)) :o)

strawberry Princess said...

For me it's the other way around, I always wanted to be a teacher just like mom and dad or my grandmother and grandfather but that is not the reason why I wanted to be a teacher. on my young mind I see how much respect they get from people and from the community. Students of any grade or even students who already graduates still bow down if they say good morning of good afternoon.

When I go out with my mom we always bump into someone who will chit chat with her, if asked who is she/he, she would tell me it's her/his student before. and I always see the face of success in her eyes.

she always tell me, we don't pay much "which is true, they are the lowest paid government worker" but we are happy when we help achieve a kids dream

anyway bottom line is that I did not turn out to be a teacher I guess somewhere on my way i found out that I'm better of for something else but I still teach voluntary when I ever I have time to join a teaching mission.

Julie Musil said...

What an amazing story. You know what? They both always remember you. I'd bet money on it.

Tracy said...

For some reason your post made me think of "Of Mice and Men". I think true teachers are really just people who've learned how to see the big picture from the experiences in their own life.

There. That was my zen-like thought for the day. ;o)

Kari Marie said...

What you did was so wonderful! Reminds me to be more present in life and with the people who ramble in and out of it. They are all there for a purpose, whether I know it or not.

Jan Markley said...

That's a lovely story! Thanks for sharing.

aarongraham said...

I loved this post! Education has always been close to my heart. I grew up in a family of teachers and had the privlidge of teaching Theatre for 2 years!

Two of the best years of my life!

LTM said...

@SP--You're right about teachers being like local celebrities! That one year I taught, I was amazed at how many people "knew" me. I think that was another reason I took a break. I was so young and goofy--I didn't like being watched. But it's good that you're doing what you love and that you do teach when you have the opportunity.

@Jan--You bet! Thanks for stopping by! :o)

@Aaron--That's really awesome. And Theater! How fun. I'm sure those were two awesome years. Good teachers are priceless. :o)

Michelle Merrill said...

I would be honored if someone asked me that too. My daughter's teacher is the most fashionable person ever. Although, I probably had the same impression as you growing up, especially when I had a teacher I didn't exactly get along with :) Great post. Very inspiring. I liked your story. I probably would've asked you the same thing.

And I would also love to have that toy. We have the movie that sings the alphabet that way but I don't always like my kids to be in front of the TV. A game would be nice. Maybe I'll go get one...

Kittie Howard said...

What a super shout-out for teachers! Great story! And teaching's still in your blood!

K.M. Weiland said...

Beautiful story! Kudos to you for having the sharp eye and the caring heart to see needs when they crop up. This anecdote needs to be part of a novel if you ask me!

Lydia K said...

Great story! Teachers are my heroes. So I'd definitely take it as a compliment!

Dawn Kurtagich said...

That is awesome. You have no idea how comforting and wonderful it must have felt to be that mother, witnessing someone showing a kindness to her son, where he most likely would get badly treated or be misunderstood in normal circumstances.

You rock ;)

LTM said...

@KM--Hey, thanks! I don't know how sharp my eye is... I think I probably did what anyone else would've. As for the novel, who knows. I always seem to draw on little bits of real life when I'm writing, so it could I guess! In some form~ <3

@Dawn--I hope so. I was thinking how hard her life must be and I did think about how kids like him are typically regarded (or disregarded). I bet you'dve done the same~ :o) <3

Matthew MacNish said...

You can't go around writing serious posts when I'm not blogging, LTM, it's not right.

And I might be a preacher, but I ain't no teacher.

Stacy Gail said...

Leigh, this is an AMAZING post. You made a difference in someone's life, a small, beautiful difference, and that's more than a lot of people can say.

Anita said...

Bless you for taking the time to connect with that little boy and understanding his mother. My daughter has Asperger, which is a high-functioning form of Autism. So yes, it's so refreshing and touching when someone makes an extra effort to get to know my child, instead of just writing her off as unreachable.

See Leigh? THIS is why you're one of my fave people out there. Thanks for this post!

Clarissa Draper said...

I love good teachers! I homeschool my son and so I have a small inkling of the challenges they face but to have 30+ students in a class, each student with different problems and identities, we should be paying teachers more.

Creepy Query Girl said...

awe, this made me a little teary. Yes, it's easy to take a minute and put yourself in somoene else's shoes- and eventually maybe even explore it further in book form. Some people are born teachers:)

Stephen Tremp said...

We had Leap Frog for our kids. I still remember the E and EH sounds. And the voice of Tad. My kids loved them.

LTM said...

@Anita--wow. Hats off to YOU. I can't even imagine the work and the heartbreak sometimes. ((big hug)) And hey! Thanks--you're one of my faves, too! :D <3

@Stephen--ours didn't look like the one in the picture. Ours had a frog on it--was that Tad? I didn't know. :D

Matthew MacNish said...

Who is that in those first two pictures? Annie Winter?

Wearing dead animals is SO last year.

Angela Felsted said...

This story brought me to tears. So sweet.

Liz Fichera said...

I'm all choked up reading your post today. It's so nice when we make those real connections with people, isn't it? :-)

Teachers rock.

Talli Roland said...

Oh, what a great post!

Being a teacher is the hardest job - physically and emotionally - I have ever done. I have all respect and admiration for people who are still teaching!

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, this was fabulous, Leigh! And I love teachers, but I remember that feeling--thinking they were just too traditional or something. You know how I want to be dark and edgy! But I love that story, and how your earlier experience prepared you for it, and let you see it for what it was (just like a good book needs the lead in like that)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

That does matter when you're scolding an 18 year-old boy who's looking down at you, grinning.

I'm still grinning at that image.

That's a great story. Having a child with ADHD and asperger syndrome, I can understand her fear.

Lynda R Young said...

hahah I can so relate to this. I used to think the same thing as you, but now I take it as a compliment.
Gotta love that writerly brain too.

LisaAnn said...

I absolutely love this post; thank you for sharing. Teachers are truly some of the most underrated heroes of our time.

LTM said...

@Liz--man! I got all choked up writing it! :D Yes--it is nice, and I tell ya, now that I'm a mom, I value good teachers so much. They make all the difference in the world, and you never forget them... I didn't appreciate that myself the year I taught. <3

Theresa Milstein said...

You have the disposition to help others. Definitely a compliment! I loved this story. Thanks for sharing it.

Los Angeles SEO said...

I know quite a few teachers... young hip and really patient. If anything I think that those people who asked if you were a teacher were paying you a compliment about how well you handle yourself with children.