Difference Making Teachers

Posted: September 4, 2014 in Uncategorized
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School is back in session and I thought this would be a decent time to re-post something I wrote for Yahoo about my favorite teacher of all-time and how she completely destroyed my hope of ever having a positive adult female influence in my life.

I only had a small handful of teachers who had a positive impact on me. In elementary school, there was my kindergarten teacher Mrs. Trani, a woman who always praised me and how well-behaved I was. Mrs. Trani insisted there was something special about me. In fourth grade there was Mrs. Hartbauer, a woman who was similar to Mrs. Trani and actually took an active interest in my life. Mrs. Hartbauer also insisted that there was something special about me. It was not until high school when I would have another teacher attempt to make a positive difference in my life. This woman was my 10th-grade English teacher, Mrs. Hill.

Tenth grade was the pinnacle of awkwardness for me and I think that was why Mrs. Hill tried to help me so much. My quiet demeanor and obvious social flaws made me an easy target to get walked over by other students. Mrs. Hill wanted to do whatever she could to limit the torment from life I would inevitably receive.

The English class I took with Mrs. Hill started off normal. It may have been after a field trip where she noticed I was sitting by myself that Mrs. Hill began paying closer attention to everything I did.

The first assignment Mrs. Hill took special interest in me was a brief one about what we wanted to do when we grew up. I forget specifically what I said, but it was something about comedic writing. Mrs. Hill stopped me on my way out of class and asked if I had heard of a local comedy club. I told her I had never heard of it and figured she was nothing more than a senile old woman asking strange questions. Mrs. Hill was in her mid-50s so it wasn’t such a preposterous proposition for me to believe. The next day, Mrs. Hill came in with a phone number for me to contact the comedy club about getting on stage. At the time I had no interest in ever doing stand-up comedy, so when she asked if I called, I told her the phone rang and nobody ever picked up. Two years later I actually did do stand-up comedy for the first time, possibly subconsciously thanks to Mrs. Hill.

For the rest of the year Mrs. Hill and I continued to have a very strange relationship, not one that ends with her in an orange jumpsuit. We bonded over the fact that I lied to her about having been to Buffalo. I owned a Buffalo Bills t-shirt for some reason and since Mrs. Hill was born in Buffalo, we became friends who would talk about different places in Buffalo, none of which I had ever heard of.

One of the final assignments we had that year was an oral report. The goal of the report was to teach our classmates how to do something. Lacking self-esteem in my bloodstream, I had no clue what I could have taught my classmates. The most beautiful girl in school sat two seats behind me. What did I know that she didn’t?

Mrs. Hill asked me what I would be doing my report on. I told her I had no idea and she suggested I do one of the examples, how to make a BLT sandwich. As a fat kid I took offense to this. I didn’t tell her I was offended though. Instead I said it would be tough to get the materials needed. My parents had separated a year earlier and even though my dad was around a lot less, I could have easily asked him to get me the ingredients for a BLT sandwich.

Of course as our relationship was, I lied to Mrs. Hill. I told her that my parents would not buy those foods for me. I think at that time Mrs. Hill believed I came from an abusive home where I was given a box of crackers to eat each day to survive on. Mrs. Hill was kind enough to offer to actually buy me the ingredients I needed. I told her not to because I have always been someone not to ask for favors. If Mrs. Hill had gotten me the necessary foods I might owe her something. I would be expected to help her move a dead body somewhere down the line.

I ended up doing my report on how to get rid of a stuffy nose. It was actually pretty good and a lot different from the others. Mrs. Hill had a big smile on her face during my report. Even better, the prettiest girl in school was leaning forward against her desk, unable to take her eyes off me throughout. She was amazed that sniffing salt water could clear out your nasal passages. For a few minutes, I had earned her attention.

My favorite thing about Mrs. Hill was how much she encouraged me to continue with my writing. My ninth grade English teacher Mr. Kane told me I was good, but Mrs. Hill practically begged me to join the school newspaper. I had no interest writing stories praising the corrupt high school government or doing coverage on how the cafeteria tater tots were no longer poisonous. Her encouragement of me meant a lot and I was lucky to have her as a teacher.

Unfortunately the story doesn’t stop there. The next time I would interact with Mrs. Hill would be two years later in twelfth grade. My English teacher that year was out sick so they had Mrs. Hill come in and babysit us for forty minutes. I had not seen her in quite some time and I knew she would be a little curious how my life had been going. I looked drastically different by then, having dropped a ton of weight, but I was still clearly me. Mrs. Hill would have so many positive things to say to me. She would have herself to partly thank.

An assignment was given to us and since it was late in the year and most of the class had committed to going to the local community college, we had little reason to care about our GPAs. Instead of doing our work for the day we goofed off. Mrs. Hill thought she would authoritatively walk around the room in hopes it would get us to do our work.

I was seated in the second seat closest to the door. Only a girl with the last name Adams came before my name, Tim Boyle, alphabetically. Mrs. Hill made her way across the classroom and over to me with her familiar friendly smile. We made eye contact and her smile grew even larger.

“Are you finished with your work, John?”

There was no mistaking it. She was looking directly at me. My favorite teacher had just called me the wrong name.

My eyes puffed out. My bottom lip dropped. For a few seconds my heart stopped beating then spun around in a circle. My name wasn’t John. In fact, it never has been. I have always been a Tim, Timothy, or Timmy; among other more insensitive nicknames.

“My name’s not John,” I said a little disappointed.

Mrs. Hill’s mind crossed over itself. Then she remembered who I was, “Matthew?” she questioned.

I shook my head. This guessing game would have gone on forever. Mrs. Hill, the one teacher in high school who made a positive difference in my life, forgot who I was even after two guesses. She walked away to the next aisle, never to interact with me ever again.

Out of all the things Mrs. Hill taught me, the most important was that nobody cares about us as much as we may think they do. Thanks for the terrible revelation.

peggy hill

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