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…

pencils

THE FLYING POOH

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 HOMELY GIRL

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.

THE BLIND SEER

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. There were so many great teachers when I was growing up. They all inspired me to be a teacher, of course once I started going to school to be a teacher I quickly realized there was no money in it so I am not a school teacher. However, I teach at my job everyday and I really enjoy that part. The teacher who really stands out for me was Mary Delk who was so much fun to have as a teacher. The most incredible thing about her is that she is friends with many of her former students on Facebook. I felt so honored that she could remember who I was after 10 years, all because I was the voice of Eliza Doolittle when we read “Pygmalian” That is a teacher that is very vested in the success of her students.

    1. I know…it was hard for me to choose so few for this post. Teaching is one of the most amazing gifts, I will say.

      I’ve reconnected with a couple of mine on FB as well, and I was sitting there explaining who I was, then they stopped me. I remember you! Such a cool feeling…it is an honor to be remembered by them. : )

  2. Wonderful post, Britt, and I love the imagery you wove throughout. I could really picture all those moments of your life. What interesting characters they all are, hint-hint. 🙂

  3. What fascinating teachers you’ve had, from the crazy dance teacher to the inspiring professor. And thank goodness for the teacher who made you share your writing – I can imagine how embarrassing it must have been as a teen to have your writing shared with the whole class but it started a wonderful tradition so it was worth it in the end!

  4. I distinctly remember an old woman (she was probably 30 – LOL) teacher when I was in 1st grade who (at story-time when we would sit crossed-legged on the floor) would slip of her shoes and have us tickle her feet. It was gross – phew! 😀

      1. I know. I work with a bunch of twenty-somethings, and one of them made a perfectly innocent comment about renting cars the other day. “Don’t you have to be old to rent one?”

        I believe the requirement is 25 in most cases.

        That’s right. Old. 25.

  5. Such a well-worked piece of writing Britt – your standards are high.
    It puts me in mind of one dusty old history teacher who taught us grammar school teenagers. He’d given up any semblance of class control. We’d walk in and out of his class as we wished and, as he chalked on the blackboard he was oblivious even to the apple cores that pinged onto the board around him.
    Too late in life I thought that he must have gone home sadly at the end of each day, maybe to an empty flat. He made himself a sandwich and a cup of tea, watched a bit of telly, went to bed and prayed for his retirement day.

    1. Thx, Roy! I was up late with this one the other night. : )

      Oh, your poor grammar school teacher! Teaching teenagers is a saintly occupation. We had a math teacher in a similar situation. Everybody called him “Mr. Booger” because the man ALWAYS had bats in the cave. If he ever stepped out, the other kids would draw Mr. Booger on the board.

      I think this might be where that whole “kids can be so cruel” expression comes from.

  6. I had plenty of good teachers and a few bad. But the teacher who stands out most to me is my husband.

    He’s very modest about the job he does, and would shrug off any credit people give him, but he’s excellent. He teaches high school E.D. (emotionally disturbed) kids. He provides them with structure that they often don’t get at home and he shows them respect and boundaries. He also, unintentionally, shows them what a good father is like.

    My daughter calls him every day when she gets home from school. It’s the only call he takes. One day, he was conferring with a girl who was about to be suspended for fighting. My daughter called and he excused himself from the conversation for a minute, swiveling his chair around to answer the call. “Hi, Beautiful. Do you have homework? Okay. Get started on it, Good Girl. I’ll see you soon. I love you.” It was as simple as that.

    He swiveled back around to find his student crying. “Was that your daughter?” He nodded. “My dad never talked to me like that.”

    1. That is so sweet and amazing. Teachers, well excellent teachers, can take on the important role of parenting as well. I have had some incredible moments with my students, and I know that we were equally touched by it. Your husband sounds like he’s doing a fine job out there. : )

  7. 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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