I remember my kindergarten teacher by name. I remember my first grade teacher by name. I remember my second, third, and fourth grade teacher’s names. I had had a good experience with all of my teachers up to that point.
Then, when I entered the fifth grade, I met, what would become, my all-time favorite teacher! Her name was Mrs. Roberts and she was like a “saint” to me. She took the time to get to know me and understand me. She knew I had a difficult time sitting still. (I still can’t sit still.) She knew that I spent time daydreaming. (I still daydream.) She knew that she would have to remind me that I could not count the number of tiles on the floor or ceiling out loud and disrupt the class. She often had to remind me of the rules of the class. She had a unique way of getting her student’s attention when she needed it. She had set up her classroom so that the students were seated in a large circle. On her desk, she had a whole bunch of bean bags. If a student misbehaved, she would pick up a bean bag, take aim, and chuck it at the rule-breaker. (Yes, I know, she would have been fired in today’s world!) Her methods were effective and her students loved her and wanted to please her.
I was able to enjoy Mrs. Roberts class for the first half of the year. Then, in the middle of the school year, my step-dad was transferred to Spain for his work with the U.S. Air Force. So, our family packed our bags and moved to a strange new country. Then, I went to strange new school and was assigned to a strange new teacher… yes, she was very strange indeed!
To this day, I could not remember her name, and I certainly could not have picked her out of a lineup – not even if I was paid to do so…. Must not have “felt the love” as my kids say.
“What sparked this memory?” you may be asking. I was going through some old papers of mine that my mother had held onto for me… In those papers, there were report cards, Christmas cards, art projects from school… you know… the usual stuff a proud mom would keep on her favorite son….There I found my report cards from the 5th grade.
It was very eye-opening to see the difference in comments between my two fifth grade teachers! My favorite teacher, Mrs. Roberts, had written, “I have had the greatest pleasure to have Doug in my class. He is a smart young man and will go far in life. Good luck in all you do and remember that your teacher loves you.” As I looked down the grades I received in her class, they were all A’s and B’s, and I had “Outstanding” on everything except for “paying attention.” For someone with ADD, that was no surprise at all!
Then, I found my report card and information from the second half of my 5th grade school year. The first thing that I noticed on the cover was that by “Student’s Name” it read, “Johnston, Douglas.” I started laughing. No one calls me, “Douglas,”… no one! I think I have only been called Douglas two or three times in my life… All of those times, it was by my mom when she was VERY, VERY angry at me. And so, today I see that my least favorite teacher had that as my name a well…. Coincidence? I think not! But, I decided to give her the benefit of the doubt, thinking that she may not have known me well when I first signed up for school. Then, I opened the report card and began to read what she had written. Science = D, Spelling = C (Okay, if you read my blog often, you realize she may be right on this one!) Reading = D, English = D, Communication = D, Handwriting = D, Social Studies = D and finally Host Nation Language and Culture = B. Now, remember here, I had just moved to Spain from America. In my entire life, I have only known about 20 words in Spanish, and about fifteen of those are swear words that I picked up on the soccer field. It was amazing to me that these grades were given to me, the same student who had just been getting all A’s and B’s a few weeks earlier.
So then, I read the three comments she had written on the back of the report card to see why the grades were so low. The first comment reads, “Needs to be doing more class work on reading skills and logs. DOUGLAS can do good work but he must but forth consistent effort. Needs extra help at home with division.” The second comment, “DOUGLAS doesn’t always use his time wisely and has failed to complete many long term assignments.” Finally the third comment, “Best of luck next year. I’m sure you’ll do well IF you try harder.”
I found out at that point that her name, that I could never remember after all of these years, was “D. Sedrish,” from the signature on my report card. I am sorry that I was such a bad student, and I will take the responsibility for bad grades, but I will not take what she wrote so seriously, and here is why….
I am someone, like most people, that likes and responds well to being praised. I am someone who does his best when he is not being cut down because of his religious beliefs. I have written another blog about what happened to the only other LDS student in the class…. Not Nice!
When I moved back to Utah from Spain, I had the chance to go to my old home town for a day… Guess where I went! That’s right… straight to see Mrs. Roberts, my favorite 5th Grade Teacher! By now, I was in the 8th grade. When I walked in to her classroom, she looked straight at me and without missing a beat said, “Hi Dougie!” She knew me. She was excited to see me. How refreshing. It was so nice to visit with her. After that, I moved to Mississippi for two years. When I arrived back in my home town after those two years, my first person to visit was, you guessed it, Mrs. Roberts! I visited with her on many occasions after that. She truly was a positive influence in my life and really made a difference as my teacher.
Over those years, I visited with other teachers, but none had touched my life like Mrs. Roberts. I could always tell which teachers loved me and taught with love and a desire to make a difference. I have the report cards and notes from a lot of them, and they tell the story of which ones helped me to succeed and which ones did not.
For example, when I had a speech problem in the second grade, I had a speech teacher. I could not speak well at all. I went to speech therapy three times a week, and it was not making any difference. I did not really like the lady that was my speech therapist in the beginning. Then, she went on a leave to have a baby. While she was gone, in walked the prettiest speech therapist in the world. I was smitten! It wasn’t so much her looks as her smile and friendly demeanor. She immediately made me feel at ease and told me I had beautiful blue eyes. That little bit of praise was all it took. As one who now makes part of his living doing speaking engagements, you can see that she was successful in turning my speech problem around.
So, was it some miracle that my speech improved? And, was it just by chance that I remembered my fifth grade teacher’s name and her so well. Absolutely not!
Most people work better when they are in a positive environment and surrounded by happy people. As the evidence from my box of school memories proves, one little boy had his life changed forever by these types of individuals. Thank you Mrs. Roberts for taking the time to get to know me and understand me and thank you for loving and accepting me… just the way I was…..