Someone once told me you can identify the teachers who chose their profession according to three criteria; June, July and August. They are the ones who are there for the paycheck and the vacations. They are the ones who lecture, give tests and clock out at 3pm.
In my life, I can look back on all the educators I encountered and think of a grand total of three who influenced my life, lead me, guided me and inspired me. There was something unique about each and every one of them. Something no other teacher possessed. A quality they brought to the classroom and to me personally that to this day still lingers. They were the ones who didn’t think outside of the box – they WERE outside of the box.
And then there were the ones who for one reason or another put me in a position to make a choice that would define who I was to become. Some of these were simple choices, others were difficult. It was one of these teachers that touched my life first.
I can clearly remember in kindergarten when my teacher – whose name I’ve chosen to forget – assigned us the project of making a pillow out of felt. Many times I had watched my mother sew many things; buttons on pants, holes in socks and the occasional rip in a seam. My confidence grew as I strode over to the supply cabinet and carefully picked out my thick needle, blue felt and red yarn to match. With complete intensity, I sat at my table and began.
I first lined up the two sheets of felt and cut them each the same size. I picked up my needle and thread and imitating my mother, licked one end of the yarn before pulling it through the wide eye of the child safe needle. I picked up the felt and began steadily pulling the needle through over and over again. Once I was completely satisfied I reached in a large bag and took a small handful of white cloud-like puffy stuff and filled it up careful that it was evenly spread. It was here that I made the dreadful mistake. I proceeded to sew up the fourth side!
Pride filled my tiny 5 year old heart as I marched confidently to the front of the room to her desk to show off my creation… a pillow to beat ALL pillows! She nonchalantly took my blood sweat and tears in her hand, rolled it over from side to side and then casually placed it on her desk. She then turned to me, looked me dead in the eye and told me I had failed the assignment. How could this be!? It was a pillow! And it was as perfect, just like the ones on our couch! Perfectly square with precision sewing, the white puffy stuff quite evenly spread within. I pointed all of these things out as serious as a lawyer delivering the closing argument for the case of a lifetime. With her spider-like hands lying crossed in front of her, she waited for me to finish my argument of which I don’t believe she heard one word. She then looked blankly at me and proceeded to claim that this was no pillow. Pillows had one open side. A tense silence ensued.
I deeply contemplated the words she had just spoken. The first worry lines in my life appeared on my forehead as I went over her flippant instructions in my head. After a moment, I looked up at her composing myself as best as I could and exclaimed “but that is a pillow CASE. A pillow has all 4 sides sewn!” Needless to say, I was sent to the corner for insubordination and received a zero for the assignment.
It was the first time in my life I remember being punished for doing the right thing simply because I chose to speak my mind and point out the discrepancy. Was there another way to handle the situation? I believe to this day that this individual saw the world in black and white and could never be blessed with the opportunity of seeing shades of grey.
It wasn’t until middle school that would I encounter a man who would change the perception I had of myself and inspire me to not only be who I was but to embrace it and have fun at the same time.