My father was enlisted in the military, frequent moves were common-place. I dreaded visiting the doctor or dentist. They, too, were military personnel, and I felt they lacked in pediatric finesse. To be honest, I literally had additional symptoms stacked one on top of each other just from the visit itself.
I started fifth grade in a brand new public school. I adored my teacher. I honestly cannot remember her name, but I keenly remember the name of one of the sixth grade teachers, the one that I hoped I was never assigned to, Ms. Rutherford.
Much to my horror, the dreaded assignment letter came during summer break…I would be stepping into Ms. Rutherford’s class the day following Labor Day.
Ms. Rutherford had been a nurse in the U.S. Army. As if I have a portrait of her etched in my mind today, I can see her standing outside her school room door with her arms folded over her stiffly starched white blouse, which was neatly tucked into her straight gray skirt, with heavy stockings and military-issued black shoes on her feet. She also wore heavy rimmed glasses. She was all business…march one, two, three, four…march!
On many occasions, as I walked down the hall to Ms. Rutherford’s room, I could feel her watching me. Sure enough, she would dramatically straighten up, even though I would still be classroom lengths away, signalling for me to straighten my posture, to walk and stand like she did. I might as well have saluted her, trust me.
I feared her. I was intimated by her. I just knew she was out to get me. I was not going to meet up to her standards.
My father was in Vietnam, my mother was hugely pregnant with my sister. I was determined to not rock the boat.
My mother called out to me one evening, “Mary, let’s sit down and talk.” She had a folded piece of paper in her hand. “I received a letter from Ms. Rutherford.” Gulp. Busted. What I feared the most was taking place. “Ms. Rutherford indicates that you day-dream all day, that you don’t look at her in class, you don’t pay attention.” Big sigh. My stomach knotted. I did pay attention in class, probably in the worst sort of way. I replied, “Mom, I do pay attention. I don’t look at her because the light reflects off of her heavy glasses and I cannot see her eyes.” My mother never replied to Ms. Rutherford, she asked me one thing, “Why in the world didn’t you say something?” I did not have an answer. I feared Ms. Rutherford, and I had no idea how to tell my mother. So, from that day forward I gave her full attention, as if I could see her eyes behind the glare of her glasses. Problem solved.
Each and every report card came in with, “Mary is quiet, too quiet.” I thought a child was supposed to be quiet. The teacher did not allow talking in her class. her class was squeaky clean quiet. Then the big letter came, Ms Rutherford said I would be failing math unless I began applying myself.
What was the problem? I decided to speak up and tell my mother that I was good at math, but I was good at math my way. I knew I could do circles around everyone else in class if only I completed the work based on my own formulas. My response was rejected. Ms. Rutherford told my mother that it was imperative that I learn math the proper way. It was crucial for my future.
My Math grades continued to decline.
Out of the blue, Ms. Rutherford approached my mother with something that changed my life. She said she knew I was capable of doing well, and she wanted to see my work. She gave me a chance. It worked. I excelled.
Obviously, she pivoted when she allowed herself to have faith in one young lady…me! Who knows, it might have changed how she handled students from then forward. Because of her faithful approach, I enjoyed going to Math class for the next six years. I was the student that zipped to the front of the class filled with encouragement and correct answers.
I learned multitudes of things from my experience. None of us think alike. None of us learn the same way. Always speak up for yourself, and always ensure children understand that they have to speak up for themselves, it is to their benefit, when they are doing their best – even if they feel intimated. Above all, remember that we can gain so much from listening to each other…there is no perfect box…we all make the world go ’round, so remember to bend!