Sometimes Colored Outside the Lines

martial arts apple

I’ve seen it all…the martial artist, the OCD chick, the alcoholic, the dude who liked to throw chalkboard erasers at kids, and the wrinkled old bag who told me not to eat my birthday cake because I needed to lose weight.

Did I mention these are teachers I’ve had?

The cake Nazi was a ballet teacher I once had. Fortunately, I didn’t end up with an eating disorder at eighteen. Unfortunately, my birthday was completely shot to shit.

My lovely friend Letizia over at Reading Interrupted was reminiscing about her first reading of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, fondly describing her rotund teacher stirring her imaginary cauldron for dramatic effect.

During our conversation, she divulged another fun fact about this teacher. She often wore sneakers, which were borrowed from her daughter, with “I love boys” written on them.

Amazing, right?!

This spunky discussion threw me down memory lane, one where the street turned into the chalkboard I stared at for countless years. As I walked along this chalkboard street, I saw them all…the teachers of my past.

By the creaking stop sign I saw the nicotine-perfumed spinster who always got mad at me, because my handwriting was slanted the wrong way; across the potholed street I saw the blonde with the infectious smile who was always patient with us, because she loved it when our light bulbs got bright; on the corner I saw the wise guy with the coffee-stained teeth who always encouraged us to be smarter, because he knew we weren’t children, but adults incognito.

When I glance in the rearview mirror, back on the pencil-scented air and the permanent grass stains on my back pocket, the best teachers stand out…they just do. They thought outside the box of crayons, coaxing us to color the world any way we wanted, to become the people we are today.

Here is a tribute to a few of the crazy best ones I have known…



Around the time chalkboard erasers were being launched at my head, my first dance teacher had something more creative to throw…a fake piece of pooh.

“Do you know what you all look like right now?” he demanded, his eyes darting wildly, daring someone to answer defensively.

I was the youngest in a class of teens and we all looked at each other, then back at him, remaining silent and dreading the punchline.

He pointed at the fake pooh. “You all look like this.”

Quite magnificently, he leaped as he chucked the pooh across the room. Our mouths hung ajar as it plopped on the floor, underneath the ballet barre.

We tried the choreography again, and we didn’t look like pooh that time.


The first short story I ever wrote was in my sophomore honors English class. Until then my writing had been happily concealed from the public, strewn across my journal which was tucked beneath my lumpy mattress.

But, damn this one English teacher!

He decided to share my story “The Homely Girl” with the entire class, a room full of unforgiving teenagers just dying for something to snicker at. And, snicker they did as he read the first sentence, and he stared until they stopped.

He had menacing brown eyes. He didn’t say anything for several minutes – he didn’t have to.

The room was muted except for the ticking of the clock, one of those chintzy ones that falls behind, making time stall after lunch.

Finally he said, “You’re going to listen to this. This is writing.”

I was mortified. But, hey…a writer was born.


I had this college professor who made intelligence appear effortlessly savvy, but it wasn’t…because he was blind. A Palestinian refugee who ended up sharing his impeccable insight with all of us bleary-eyed political science students, he taught us to stop looking at the world and instead, to start seeing it.

When we complained about reading, he gently reminded us of his lifelong struggle for education, a colorless world where sounds and scents reigned supreme. Words were not something he could see, but we could.

He also had this amazing way of engaging the class. He learned everybody’s name based on their assigned location in the room. Even the rebel in the back corner wasn’t safe from his mental map.

Since he was the head of the department, I had to check in with him before my last year. I sat across the scarred desk from him in his musty office, ready to enter the real world without an effing clue.

“So, Brittney. Why is your primary focus on conflict management anyway?” he asked, leaning back in his basic chair, his arms crossed for emphasis.

“Uh, I don’t know. I want to work for the UN some day, to save the world I guess,” I stammered lamely.

He sighed. “Yet, I can see you’re not a conflict girl.”

I sat silently, fuming. There I was at the end of my college years, and my professor was telling me I was doing it wrong.

“You can do more with the world without pretending to be a conflict girl.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know.”

We laughed.

“OK, then.” And I traipsed out of his office, confused but smiling.

I never did anything with my expensive piece of paper, my International Studies degree. But, I did some other things.

I danced most of my life, moving thousands through the art of performance and teaching hundreds the art of movement. I kept scribbling nonsense in my journals, and eventually wrote a couple of books and started this sweet blog. I finally figured out that the world begins to be healed when we heal ourselves, and I became a Yogi.

Teachers can be the pencil sharpeners, spinning minds around and around, bettering those who want to be better. We can be the pencils, writing our stories and never worrying about not having an eraser, for they are perfect just as they are. The world can be the coloring book, sometimes colored outside the lines, but forever lovely and full of possibilities.

What about you, my happy pencils? What are some of your memorable teacher tales?

19 thoughts on “Sometimes Colored Outside the Lines

  1. I remember Miss Whittle my English teacher you encouraged me to write. She even came to pick me up when I was late for a school exam. She told me I should write books, all these years later I still hear her words of encouragement and wish I could thank her for them.

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