Day#3 An Open Letter to My 2nd Grade Teacher
I remember the swish of your skirt as you tapped chalk across the board tracing out letters in stark lines and curves. Your whole back would shimmy as you swirled sentences and lines for us to copy down. I hated the days you wore slacks.
You had short hair cut into what would probably be considered an unfortunate bob nowadays but it was a golden ochre and I thought you were beautiful.
I thought you were brilliant.
You never stood in the same place in the classroom. You had a restless vibrancy and you’d talk with big waving hand gestures when you taught.
You licked the tip of your finger as you turned the story pages and we sat circled up and anxious, hanging on your whispered words. I didn’t even need to see the turn of the book or the colored pages, it was happening in my mind with every word. Story time was always my favorite.
You’d walk down the aisles of desks lined in neat rows and you smelled like good no-nonsense soap. Like fresh laundry. You’d lean in close and point a long tapered finger across our work to help us sort it all out. You didn’t give us all the answers. You held the balance of mystery and knowing, you made me want to know too.
You’d tell us great job and your smile was wide and toothy spanning your face. You gave them away generously.
I’d sit in my room after school with Talitha bear, and Pete Fitz, and Strawberry Shortcake lined up along my floor and I’d make up lessons and read them stories and grade their papers.
I knew I would teach. Everything I learned I ached to pass on.
Only Talitha bear would ask questions because her jointed arm would stay hovering in the air where I positioned it. I’d always answer them gently and in several different ways to make sure she got it.
Sometimes I’d tell them all to get their wiggles out and I’d show them how to shake their limbs out and we’d all giggle. I’d think of how your long limbs would jiggle and the skin on your arms would swing wider a few seconds after your arm returned and I didn’t think it was gross or weird. I thought you were like a crane with long soaring wings. I thought you were magnificent and wise.
I wonder now thirty-some years later what you really looked like. I wonder about the days when you were tired or had a head ache or your period. I wonder if you had children of your own or if you went home and crawled in bed beside your husband and talked about us. I wonder if you went out shopping with your girlfriends at whatever stores carried long swishy skirts.
In my childhood you existed only for me. You existed to teach me and grade my papers and lead us out to the playground for recess. I never thought of the days when the class got lice and you probably had to run by the drugstore on the way home to buy special shampoo. Maybe your husband got them too? Or your kids. Maybe you leaned into the mirror and patiently combed them out yourself.
I never thought that you might have had kids in class who frustrated you, who had special needs, or acted out. I never thought about the fact that we lived in a poor neighborhood and the classrooms may have come with a weight and burden and a host of needs. I never thought about any of that.
I can’t remember a single subject I learned in second grade. I don’t know if we were learning to add or subtract sums or which stories we read. I don’t know what we learned in history or science. I can’t remember any textbook or worksheet. All I remember is how you made me feel.
I just knew you were mine. You belong to my memories. You told me I could be anything. I believed you.
I wrote my first poem in your class. You told me it was beautiful and hung it with a big white gob of sticky tack on the papered bulletin board under Super Work.
Sometimes when I write something truly beautiful, something I’m really proud of, it feels a little like looking up at that board and seeing my words hung across the great wide open world just waiting for me to believe like that little girl.
Thank you for paving the way for that child’s dreams. You taught me well.