I always get nostalgic this time of year.
There was something so special and magical about the beginning of a new school year.
Brand new notebooks with clean, crisp pages. The fresh packs of pencils. The coveted big box of Crayolas that made you the queen of the classroom.
To me, the start of the school year was exciting and magical, a welcomed end to the boredom of summer.
One of my favorite things was getting to meet my new teacher.
Of course, the bar had been set high in kindergarten by Mrs. Howard. She was the litmus test by which every teacher and most humans must pass, with her sense of humor, compassion, and encouragement.
She made me love school. If I could have stayed in kindergarten with her as my teacher forever, I would have.
First grade, however, almost ruined my love for school.
This one teacher – one –tainted my whole school experience.
And she was bad enough that Mama still holds a spite and grudge against her to this day.
“She should have never been around children!” Mama will exclaim any time the woman’s name is mentioned.
I agree, but I don’t quite hold a grudge against her like Mama does. But then again, I am the child in this scenario; I am sure my perspective would be different if I was in Mama’s position.
This wretched woman did several things throughout my first-grade year that gave Mama good and justified reasons to dislike her.
“Stronger than dislike, Kitten,” Mama will remind me. “I cannot stand that woman.”
Now, what would possibly set my mild-mannered, kind-hearted Mama off like this? The woman whose favorite mantra was “there but by the grace of God go I?”
Well, let me tell you, it was not pretty, but it may not have been the most dramatic of events.
It was a primary school straw on a camel’s back.
My introduction to first grade left me wondering if one could possibly flunk out of school due to erroneous paper folding. I never successfully folded the construction paper in the certain manner this horrid teacher wanted.
I didn’t say a word to Mama; instead, I begged Granny to help me fix it.
If anyone could fix something that involved paper, fabric, or anything related to crafts, it was Granny. I am fairly certain she could have built a house with a needle and thread.
Granny helped me interpret the directions, which we followed explicitly. The teacher still said it was wrong.
“Now she’s saying I did it wrong, and I don’t make no mistakes!” Granny said. “There ain’t no pleasing this woman.”
She wasn’t wrong.
We followed the directions, but she insisted it was still wrong.
A classmate did it the same way, yet this woman did not admonish her the way she did me.
“Maybe you need to go back to kindergarten,” she said to me one day.
“Will you stay in first grade?” I asked.
“Yes,” the bitter woman replied.
I wanted away from her. I had no idea how or why she disliked me so. I was a chubby little woblin of a child and eager to make adults happy. Usually, teachers loved me.
But this woman hated me.
She had even told me on the first day of school she had hoped I wasn’t going to be in her class.
What kind of adult does that? What was wrong with her?
Of course, my beloved Mrs. Howard was teaching first grade that year and I had hoped and prayed, to the point of negotiating with God I would give up all things Little Debbie, to have Mrs. Howard again
Instead I got this shrew.
Mama was right, she had no business being around small children.
One day, we had to color a picture for fire safety week. We could color the house any color we wanted, as long as the fire and the fire truck were red.
My house was my favorite color: purple.
Not pink, which I have never cared for. Not white, not brown.
Purple. See, long before I fell in love with anything Prince, I loved the color purple.
So, my house was purple.
My fire was red – even though fire is really not red but more of a yellow-orange hue.
And my fire truck was red.
The two requirements were met.
The teacher refused to hang mine on the hall with the rest of my classmates, declaring in front of the class that no houses anywhere in the U.S. of A were purple.
“Your mother will not be proud of what you did because I will not hang it out on the hall with everyone else,” the woman told me.
I shrugged. “That’s okay, my Mama is proud of me anyway.”
“No, she’s not,” the woman sneered. “Your picture will not be allowed to be displayed in the hall. How could she proud of failure?”
Even though I was a kid, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, my Mama was proud of me whether my painting made the hall display or not. That didn’t earn my Mama’s love or praise.
Years later, I was standing in the drugstore with my friends Laura and Jane when that horrid woman walked by. She greeted both while ignoring me.
“She still hates you,” Jane said shocked.
As a new school year starts, this experience always comes to mind because I know there are more Mrs. Howards in classrooms than there is that horrible woman.
But, I hope, more than anything, there are more children knowing they are loved and worthy beyond just what gets hung in the halls.