Teacher Lady

I was the quiet man in the rear of her class—a double-wide trailer classroom. I was one of her adult community-college students who lurked in the back rows.

There she is. Yeah, it’s definitely her.

I haven’t seen her in years. She’s standing in the produce aisle of the supermarket, scooping mixed walnuts and pecans into a bag.

Nat King Cole Christmas music plays overhead. It smells like Santa Claus’ aftershave in this grocery store.

She couldn’t possibly remember me. I was the quiet man in the rear of her speech class. I was one of her adult community-college students who lurked in the back rows.

Like most in her class, I was petrified of public speaking. So were my peers.

My first speech was one I’d like to forget. I delivered a torturous five-minute monologue on the proper way to prepare Pop Tarts.

When I finished, she gave a smile that seemed to say, “I hate my life.”

I was an adult male with two jobs, a wife, and a back surgery. I tried my best in her class. And she rewarded me for it.

I’ll never forget her for that.

My classmate, Gary, was a lot like me. He worked menial jobs, he had daughters, bills. We complained in the breezeway before classes together.

Gary had a stutter—a crippling condition that embarrassed him. Simple conversation was difficult, sometimes almost impossible. Finishing a sentence could take ten minutes.

And when she paired students for final projects, she placed us together.

We worked on our speeches one evening at a sports bar. We set up shop in a booth on a Saturday night and watched the Alabama-Georgia game while scribbling speech notes on paper.

Gary purposed we make our speeches on the crisis facing modern paternity in a national economic holocaust.

“Yawn,” said I. “Let’s speak about baseball, America’s greatest pastime, or stock-car racing, or the ever-elusive, yet highly-documented and indisputably-real Bigfoot.”

We finally agreed on writing about our parents. I don’t remember much else that night, except that our notebooks had beer-stains.

And: Alabama lost to Georgia, 21-27.

Together, Gary and I stood before a small class and gave speeches. It was painful. Gary’s speech took nearly fifteen minutes.

But when he finished, the teacher clapped for him. She applauded so hard she almost broke her wrist. The class gave Gary a standing ovation. His face turned the color of a Venus Eagle cherry.

She gave us A’s, with two pluses beside them.

I introduce myself.

She doesn’t remember my name. We hug. It’s a little awkward, but sweet.

She asks what I do for a living. And I tell her that I write, and that I do a lot of public speaking. You would’ve thought someone told her she’d just won the Florida Powerball.

Another hug.

And another.

And even though I don’t know much about her, I know her type. She’s a woman who blends into crowds at, say, supermarkets. She wears plain clothes, non-flashy hair. But she’s not faceless.

No. If you could only see her with your eyes closed, you’d see a monument. She’s a woman who changes lives. A woman with more power over souls than any politician will ever bear. If you ask me, she is one of the saviors of our world.

She’s a teacher.

Merry Christmas, Gary. Wherever you are.

27 comments

  1. Dewey Fleetwood - November 28, 2017 8:02 am

    Just wanted to let you know that I really look forward to your column everyday, a lot of truth in the things you write about. You have the “eye”.

    Reply
  2. Perri Geaux Tigers Williamson - November 28, 2017 9:18 am

    I’m not sure of my favorite part of this story—that Alabama lost, that you wrote speeches in a bar (should be required), that you both earned an A+ or that now you’re a writer and public speaker. No. It is none of the above. My favorite part is there are people in this life, despite the grimness of our future (ask anyone on TV) that still believe in people and endeavor to help them make the best future for themselves which in turn makes our world a better place. YES to teachers of all stripes, and not just the classroom variety!

    Reply
  3. Susan Hammett Poole - November 28, 2017 10:08 am

    Sean, you’ve written another fine piece. You must have a special place in your heart for your Speech class teacher, and that A++ you earned in her class has definitely qualified you to write and speak today, enhancing our lives.

    It’s my opinion that we all can recall memorable teachers. Four women stand out in my mind during my education in the 1950s and ’60s. Mrs. Johns in first grade taught me how to read which began my life-long love affair with books. Miss Collins in third grade taught cursive penmanship which I called “real writing” and considered quite magical. My sixth grade teacher, Miss Haslett, stirred our creativity by having each of us read a book, write a play, design stage sets, choose actors from among our classmates and perform the plays in front of the entire grammar school. Miss Owen in twelfth grade Government class was instrumental in giving her students a love for the U.S. Constitution, freedom and patriotism. I feel blessed to have had such influential teachers who changed and enhanced my life.

    Reply
  4. Mona Oliver - high school counselor - November 28, 2017 1:13 pm

    Sean,
    Teachers. You nailed it – again.
    Thank you –

    Reply
  5. Marjorie - November 28, 2017 1:13 pm

    If you wrote love letters, every woman would be in love with you. Another great piece of work. You bring us all down memory lane. God bless you.

    Reply
  6. Connie - November 28, 2017 1:45 pm

    This reminds me that we can all be famous to someone. We can make a difference one person at a time. I may blend into the crowd but maybe there’s one person who will recognize my face.
    Thanks again for your inspiration.

    Reply
  7. Shirley J Brown - November 28, 2017 2:53 pm

    Thank you for thanking those ‘rememered, yet faded’, faded faces. It’s amazing how I imagine my student’s faces to remain the same, but they’ve all changed so much I would never approach them, but they remember me and with a SMILE on their face! Maybe I had more of an impact than I thought. They seem to think so and that’s all that counts.

    Reply
  8. Laura - November 28, 2017 2:57 pm

    Isn’t it wonderful to remember those who influenced you in such a great way- she inspired you with confidence, and having recently heard you speak, it is obvious she recognized your talent, even if you didn’t think you had it. I still remember my first grade teacher from 63 years ago, and remember how she inspired me to be a nurse, a career I only recently retired from. Love you, Sean!

    Reply
  9. Roxanne - November 28, 2017 3:13 pm

    I’m a teacher. I teach middle school–8th graders to be specific. So does my husband. I teach College and Career Readiness (a mandatory elective–figure that one out), and he teaches science. We are two crazy people who teach junior high school on purpose. And have done so for 23 years each. So, thank you for this. It was something I needed to read today. Things get a little hairy around Christmas what with teen angst and attitude, college tuition due and sqeaky transmissions and not enough Christmas money. I see my students for one, short school year–really just a semester for my class. After that, I have to believe that whatever time they spent with me was not wasted, and that we BOTH learned something from the experience. For me it’s normally the newest slang, more patience, or yet another way to spell Keyle–formerly known as Kaylee/Kaylie/Kaleigh/Kali/Kayli/Caylee. Teaching is forever. The Good Ones stick with you. The Bad Ones do too. The ones in the middle–they just leave a bit of knowledge that becomes a part of your schema, and you don’t even know from whence it came. I’m glad you had a Good One, and I’m glad you said hi to her and told her what you do now and made her day for the next week, because you are why she is a teacher.

    Reply
    • Teresa Stout - November 29, 2017 2:59 pm

      Beautifully written Roxanne.

      Reply
  10. Teresa terry - November 28, 2017 3:34 pm

    This is great! A teacher who really cares is a gift from God.

    Reply
  11. Kay - November 28, 2017 3:54 pm

    This was encouraging this morning, as I am a teacher. I can only pray someone one day will remember me as you have remembered your teacher.

    Reply
  12. Naomi Smith - November 28, 2017 4:00 pm

    She is obviously a teacher who rewards effort. She saw the tremendous effort it took for Gary to speak in public, and rewarded him for that. God bless him for putting himself through that torture. I pray that he has been successful. I’m not ignoring you. It is obvious that your hard work has paid off when I look at my email every day. God bless you for continuing to bless us.
    I must say, I have a masters degree and the most miserable class I ever took was public speaking. I’ve retired from teaching special education and I can tell you that the students who had to put forth such tremendous effort to participate were never disappointed with their grade.

    Reply
  13. unkle kenny - November 28, 2017 5:02 pm

    won’t give his name but he was my future farmers of America teacher. that first story was about a fellow who took a Rolls Royce silver Shadow car and installed an in line 12 cylinder Merlin engine out of a WW2 English Spitfire Fighter plane.. .then the cretique by 20 of your classmates . It served me well and I can stand and deliver pre written or impromptu. I have visited with Mr E. many times over the years.He has never mentioned that day. I will always remember it. Now the English teacher that used big words to describe my spelling, like “atrocious”. Note that i just looked up that word in my Webster’s Student Dictionary from my school days. She was later a principal of a County School in Columbia when I worked on alarm systems. We would sit and talk and laugh about the old days. Not a bad teacher in 12 years and 4 summer schools. God bless them all
    uk

    Reply
  14. Deborah - November 28, 2017 5:32 pm

    Trust me. From a teacher: she may not know your name but she remembers. You remembering her made her day, or week, maybe even more. I’ve said it before and I will say it again. You are a gem.

    Reply
  15. Pat - November 28, 2017 7:19 pm

    Thanks from the grandmother of a new (third year) kindergarten teacher who dearly loves her “ladies and gentlemen” as she calls her students.

    And I sure hope you hear from Gary, wherever he is……………………

    Reply
  16. Jenny Young - November 28, 2017 7:31 pm

    I remember my speech teacher. Mrs. Tucker.

    I took speech in summer school, starting a week or so after I graduated from high school. I wanted to get it over with first thing! It was 1984 & I was 18. There was a freckled boy from the Ozarks in the class. He had lots of auburn hair, ice blue eyes & he made me laugh every single time he talked to me. He was 22 & had put off speech class until his junior year…..dreading it so much.

    Years later the boy went back to the city & walked through campus remembering all the great times he had there. He actually ran into Mrs. Tucker! She remembered him. She asked him if he ever married the girl from speech class. They’re celebrating 30 yrs together this year.

    Reply
  17. Gail Kreunen - November 28, 2017 7:36 pm

    How beautiful! There is always a teacher that stands out
    from all the others. Mine? My first grade teacher. She saw my artistic talent and told my Mom. She encouraged me, though i was just a little girl. I REMEMBER! 😉
    Thank you for sharing your story —-

    Reply
  18. Connie - November 28, 2017 9:23 pm

    It is my firm belief that teachers and nurses work harder for less money than anyone on the planet. Teachers, especially, leave a lasting impression on everyone, child or adult. They all deserve much more appreciation and recognition. Thank you for doing just that.

    Reply
  19. Jack Darnell - November 28, 2017 10:53 pm

    As always, a good visit. Mrs. Mellissa Grill, 7th Grade. Yep she was a teacher. Little mountain school in NC. Like Roy Rogers, she said ‘reach for the sky!’ In a very hardnosed loving way! I spent a lot of time with her after school. 😉

    Reply
  20. Jack Quanstrum - November 28, 2017 11:12 pm

    Thank You God for all the Teachers out there!

    Reply
  21. Marty from Alabama - November 29, 2017 3:33 am

    THANK YOU! No, I am not a teacher, but I am the mother of one. I am so proud of her. She has almost 25 years and would like to retire; the insurance costs prevent it for now. That is another topic for another day.
    Know why she chose teaching and why she chose English as her area? It was because of two teachers. Mrs. Mullinax was her Junior High English teacher and Miss Smith was her Senior high English teacher. They made such lasting impressions on her and will tell anybody they were the best.
    Our teachers are not appreciated for the jobs they do. Think about it. Can you think of a person didn’t have to be taught to reach their goal? Doctors, engineers, accountants, etc. So much is expected of teachers, but they need to be shown.

    Reply
  22. teachenglish67 - November 29, 2017 4:24 am

    Dear Sean,
    Thank you for this observation and memory you had. I am a retired teacher who loved teaching and cared deeply for my students. I taught high school English—-a subject seldom enjoyed by many students. I tried to make it interesting and applicable to their lives. Some of my former students have told me I taught them more than English……I taught them life. I shared true stories of my life and being a wife and mother with them. I shared my joys and sorrows, too. A lot of time we all laughed, but sometimes I had a tear. One former student wrote this to me on my Facebook page. “I remember how absolutely honest you were and that you made us feel loved in school.” I smiled while a tear ran down my cheek. Another told me, “You were very strict, but we knew you cared about us. I wish I was back in your classroom because life is so much tougher than you were.” I miss teaching and the students. It wasn’t a job, it was a career.

    Reply
  23. Deena - November 30, 2017 1:11 pm

    A caring teacher is a blessing that too few recognize.. I’m so glad you received it.

    Reply
  24. Linda Chipman - November 30, 2017 5:44 pm

    Thank you for reminding me of an outstanding teacher I had in high school – Mrs. Gordon. I credit her with my love of reading. A teacher can indeed be a monument.

    Reply
  25. ponder304 - December 1, 2017 1:23 pm

    Oh, she remembers you and is just as proud of you as she would be her own child. I know. Retired after 39 years and 1 month…..

    Reply
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