mrtl the frtl* has announced that this week’s “Monday motif” is “A Favorite Teacher.” As I’ve said many times in blogworld, I believe good teachers and good nurses are among the most valuable members of our society. I’ve had a few favorite teachers. I’ll just talk about two today.
She had such an impact on me that she came to mind when I did the “I am From” meme. She was my second grade teacher, and later, she moved to the middle school, so she was my sixth grade Language Arts teacher. Mrs. Thornton was tall, maybe late 50s or early 60s. Her face, I remember as circles. Round apples for cheeks, with a natural blush; large, bright blue eyes. A bowl haircut, gray-white. She was always so ready to smile. Remembering her makes me think of one of my favorite quotes, which I think is credited to Amy Carmichael, “A cup that is filled to the rim with a good, sweet nectar, cannot spill out poison, no matter how suddenly or how violently it is jarred.” That quote is probably not 100% accurate, but you get the idea. She was such a good, loving person, that that’s all she seemed capable of putting out. Nothing provoked her to respond with anything other than love and concern. Even when she had to discipline children, it was firm and loving, never shaming, and you had no doubt that it really was because she loved you, that she wanted you to do better. Not that she had to discipline very much; she was one of those teachers whose demeanor commanded respect. She never raised her voice.
Mrs. Thornton always referred to herself in the third person, as “Mrs. Thornton.” “Mrs. Thornton and Mr. Thornton went out to dinner for our anniversary last night, and Mr. Thornton arranged for a violinist to come to our table. Even after all these years, Mr. Thornton doesn’t know that Mrs. Thornton does not like violin music! She does like Mr. Thornton, though, so she decided to enjoy the music!”
Mrs. Thornton also talked about her daughter, Jeannie, who was apparently the most beautiful, most brilliant, wittiest, most charming, kindest daughter that anyone has ever had. I loved hearing Mrs. Thornton talk about her daughter. I loved feeling happy for their happiness.
Years later, when I started learning about infant development, I learned how important the expression on a mother’s face is to a baby’s sense of self. Babies look at their mothers’ faces, their mothers’ eyes, for “mirroring.” Some babies look at their mothers’ faces and what is reflected back to them is weariness, annoyance, or worse. Fortunate babies look in their mamas’ “mirrors,” and see absolute delight, pure love, no doubt that they are worthwhile creatures, who are to be treasured just for being. Studying about that concept, I was reminded of the way Mrs. Thornton looked at her students. I was reminded of the way she looked at me. That is why Mrs. Thornton showed up in my poem, as someone whose eyes told me I was really something.
Mr. Cooper was a middle school Social Studies teacher. He was probably about 50, not terribly tall, African American, with closely cut hair and horn rim glasses. He called all of his students by our last names. I believe he could be described as “gruff.” And I could occasionally make him laugh. I adored making him laugh. Not out loud, never out loud, he was too stern and too dignified for that. But I knew he was laughing because he’d cover his mouth and turn his head and make coughing noises that weren’t very convincing. If you were blessed to see his smile, you’d see some gold caps on his teeth. I loved him.
He was another teacher who NEVER raised his voice. He just commanded respect. It would have been outside the realm of possibility to treat Mr. Cooper with anything other than respect. You just knew that; I still can’t explain how. Mr. Cooper had this bizarre thing that he did when someone in the class was talking out of turn. He would become silent, and then look at the intercom, tilt his head up and look all around the perimeter of the ceiling of the room, sort of Stevie-Wonder-like, saying nothing, until there was silence. Then, he’d say, “Did you hear that announcement?” No…we didn’t hear any announcement. “Well, there WAS an announcement. I heard voices, it MUST have been someone talking to me from the office, because NO ONE IN THIS ROOM HAD PERMISSION TO SPEAK.” He did this maybe three times at the beginning of the year. At first there were snickers, which he did not acknowledge. Then there weren’t snickers anymore. And after about the third time of his, “It MUST have been an ANNOUNCEMENT,” all he had to do was tilt his head back and look at the intercom. Silence. He was COOL.
It is probably no coincidence that a former student of Mr. Cooper’s looks all around for the pigs in the room when she hears her daughter “grunting” sounds like “uh huh, uh uh,” and the like.
One day Mr. Cooper’s son came to the class to visit. His name was Oliver Cooper, Jr., and he was a law student. I remember thinking, in the moment that Mr. Cooper introduced Oliver, Jr., “THAT is what a proud father looks like.” We saw plenty of Mr. Cooper’s gold caps that day. Shortly after that day, I got a guinea pig. I named him, “Ollie,” so no one would make fun of me. His full name was Oliver C. Ooper.
I do not know whether Mrs. Thornton or Mr. Cooper are still alive. I sometimes think of trying to track down Jeannie or Oliver, Jr., and telling them things like I’ve told you here.
*If you haven’t heard yet, mrtl the frtl is expecting a bundle of joy! Go congratulate her pie-eating self!