Sunday, September 18, 2011

A-plus because they didn’t pass on us

Reprinted from today's Times and News-Star

Not many people know this because I find it tacky to brag, but I was history student of the year in seventh grade and made an “A” in Spanish as a high school freshman even though I’d never been to Spain.

Just sayin…

But for those who know me, it will come as no surprise that I mowed the yards of both my seventh-grade history teacher and ninth-grade Spanish teacher.

My grades usually lagged in winter; I trace this back to a hatred of raking. But I started strong in the North Louisiana autumns that felt like summer, then rallied in the early spring and right on through Memorial Day and the school year’s final bell.

As the grass rose, so did my scores.

In college, it was a different ballgame. They make you grow up in college, or you basically fail your own self. Shoot yourself in your lazy, refuse-to-be-educated foot. My teachers, who were now deemed “professors,” wouldn’t tell me and my lawnmower where they lived.

They play hardball at the university level.

I tell you, it’s always something.

But this teacher’s pet/yardman has proof that I was a force to be reckoned with in pre-college. If I couldn’t cut it in the classroom, I could cut it on the lawn. You play to your strengths.

Witness my freshman yearbook, signed by “Senora Mullins” in her unmistakable hand, with a squiggly thing above the “n” in senora and everything: “You MUST be OK,” she wrote; “I still like you, even though you’re my neighbor!”

Why she used the capitals and exclamation point is anybody’s guess. Did she not like her previous neighbors? Did she fail their kid? With an “A,” I asked no questions. Just said “gracias” and moved along – even though her “You MUST be OK” line, which translated into street language means “You sort of get on my nerves,” hurt me.

You must be “OK”? Tacos are OK. Mi nombre es Tedro!, or something like that. Muy bueno, babe! Come on! OK is for losers!

Of course, I learned later that, from women, you take your OK’s where you can get them and learn to like it. Just part of my education, none of which would have happened without Mrs. Mullins and her tireless sisterhood of The Classroom Teachers.

They have flooded my mind and always do with the first refreshing chill of September, these women who smelled like hand lotion and hairspray and lunchroom rolls and chalk. You’ve thought of them too, maybe not for long but always for at least a moment. Might as well try not to blink as to try and dodge the autumnal world of a long-ago yesterday. For the length of one daydream, we all go back to school this time of year.

How did they do it? Day after day. Lunch room duty. Ball game. Sponsorship of the Interact Club. Raising three children at home and 150 at school. Yet always, The Teacher suited up.

When you see one this year, give them a nod. A fist bump. Maybe five bucks! Be an encourager. They have a long way to go and deal with short attention spans, and the best ones leave it all on the field. I praise my exhausted teachers who were, for me, a cut above.