(Sandy – forgive me for using Mrs. Hall repeatedly throughout this post. Old habits die hard.)
I met Mrs. Hall nearly 13 years ago on my second day of high school. Nothing makes me feel older than the fact that I can’t remember much about her class. I know she assigned a seemingly 4,000 page long book about Mythology for Summer Reading (I will never stop whining about that book). I know I sat next to a girl who would become my best friend and maid of honor, but didn’t speak to me at all for the first few months (because high school is weird). I remember Mrs. Hall making hilarious jokes on the regular. I also vaguely remember one day when another friend of mine let people duct tape her to her chair, for fun. I’m certain Mrs. Hall was out of the room then. Teenagers are weird.
By all normal social patterns Mrs. Hall should’ve been the woman who taught me 9th grade english and that’s it. I would’ve had a few funny stories from the class that I could tell my mom after school. I would have made my way through another round of Shakespeare (I’d already studied him the year before in North Carolina) and just powered through her exams. I would’ve left her classroom on the last day of the year and never really spoken to her again except for the occasional polite hello in the hallway.
I would’ve done all of those things except I don’t think I had the slightest chance of just being a kid who passed through her class. Mrs. Hall doesn’t teach like that. She cares about her students in a way that parents wish all teachers would. I was a new kid in a small town high school when I first took her class. Everyone had been in school together since 6th grade, and some since kindergarten. I can’t say for sure, but the way I remember it she seemed to look out for me a little more than most.
Her classroom was the first one that made me feel comfortable.
There was something about the way she could make 9th graders want to pretend to care about 16th century Shakespearean works while still peppering her lectures with sarcastic comments to bring us all back to the 21st century classroom full of teenagers.
I think by the end of high school I’d had Mrs. Hall as a teacher 4 different times. Only one was required. I used a couple of free periods to be a teacher’s assistant in her classroom.I took a theatre class… so completely out of character for me… just to have her as a teacher one more time. In the 9 years since high school we’ve kept in touch, and gotten together from time to time (not often enough). She’s helped me navigate adulthood and the real world sometimes knowingly, sometimes not. She’s given me the kind of support and encouragement a person needs to pursue a dream as terrifying as trying to write for a living (yeah, someday). I was and still am fascinated by the way she balances educator and friend with a hint of mother.
I don’t know much about all the standardized tests and evaluations we put our teachers through now. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m still confused by common core no matter how much I read about it. I know there are good teachers whose students leave the classroom with a solid knowledge of the lessons of the year (even if they’re pretty sure they’ll never totally get commas). For all the things I do not know (again, commas), I’m fairly certain a great teacher is one who has helped even just a single student grow the way I’ve grown by knowing Mrs. Hall.
If she were normal she would’ve just been the teacher who made me study Mythology and Shakespeare, neither of which I cared for. 13 years later she’s a woman I still go to for advice, and (as I’m nowhere near a high school student anymore) a friend with whom I can dish about life and writing over a glass of wine.
((I have literally dozens of friends and family members who are teachers. They’re doing incredibly tough work with grace and joy. I’m so glad they all exist — but I’m especially thankful for Mrs. Hall and a couple of others who’ve made a lifelong impression on me that goes far beyond my classroom education:
Mrs. Bogan — who made me laugh all year long in 10th grade Spanish class and seriously never stopped doing so.
Mrs. Howard — who taught many of my closest friends but never taught me and has still somehow managed to become one of the women I most admire, and an unexpected friend. Thanks for all of your support and kind words, always.))