Friday, May 04, 2012
Any note that begins "Mr. Schaap" locates itself in a four-year stint of high school teaching I did back int he 70s. It's not "Jim" and not "Professor," it's "Mr. Schaap."
Facebook. Last night.
"Hi, Mr. Schaap-- you might, or might not, remember me as Debbie in 1976 at Greenway High. You gave me the title of "The World's Greatest School Skipper" in my yearbook.
I remember her face, but I don't remember her skipping school, nor do I remember writing some line like that in her yearbook. Would I? For sure.
I have just been told that April 26th (?) was you last day of teaching. . .in a classroom. You had no idea then, in 1976, that I was struggling with an alcoholic mom that left me to raise my 3 younger siblings for days on end (the days I was not in school) and an abusive father that lived outside of the home most of the time.
We were told, back then, that an unhealthy number of our students came from broken homes on Phoenix's far north side, many of them from elsewhere, Arizona being the magnet that drew people from all over, many of them leaving ragged histories that only rarely got left behind.
I went to high school to simply get away from my home life, not really caring about grades and such. You had not a clue, I think, but it felt like you cared about ME when I was in your class. . .the quiet little blone girl that came to school infrequently and when she did, did not have her homework.
I could cry, reading that. She's right--I had no clue.
You sparked a desire in me to do something with my life besides just getting by from day to day. One day, I was at your desk, struggling with an assignment and you said, "If I care about your grade then you have to care.
How many gadzillions of words does an English teacher expel in a lifetime? How could I possibly remember that line? I wonder if I even remembered saying that at the end of the day. She did.
I walked home from school that day and made a promise to myself that I would start to care about what my life was going to be like. I decided that day to take my life back from my situation and not accept 'just getting by' any longer. I didn't finish high school with the greatest of grades (C's and D's), but I did not fail either.
Me? I went home and corrected papers, told myself that fighting comma errors was as endless as fighting frickin' dandelions. Then, later, I'd get myself ready for class the next day. In that house on Dailey Street, we were trying to get pregnant--that was the big story, the one nobody but our doctor ever knew.
I did graduate and then went on to pursue a degree in teaching. I worked with special needs kids for about 7 years, married my husband, moved to California, joined an RCA church, and raised four kids: 25,24,22 (girls. . .all teachers!), and an 18 year-old son who his heading off to Cal Poly SLO to become an engineer.
What I told her one day, off the cuff, standing beside her in a row of desks full of attention-deficit high school kids? Is she kidding?
So. . .I just wanted to say hello (again) and let you know, as you make this transition, how you touched my life. I am quite sure you will be missed but equally sure you will not stop teaching, ever! It will just be in a different type of classroom. . .because teaching is forever who and what you are."
Sometimes I wonder if I did it right--life, I mean. How many people stay in one place for 36 years, forever teaching the same things? Sounds a lot like sloth.
The problems with our educational system today are legion, right? And if you listen to the talking heads, the real problem is lame-brain teachers who get paid too much for doing too dang little. It's not an honorable racket--who wouldn't want out?
But I get a note like this one, on my last day of class, and I tell myself that, despite my nagging doubts, I may well have made the right decision a lifetime ago.
Look, I'd be proud as punch if I remembered doctoring this Debbie's fractured family almost two decades ago. I'd be overwhelmed to read the story she sent--and I certainly wouldn't post it like this.
But I don't remember ever saying anything that might have made a dime's worth of difference to a kid with a ragged non-school life I knew absolutely nothing about. Let's just say it the way it is--this is all magic and mystery. This is all miracle, choreographed by someone who's eye is just as intently laid on more than a few lowly sparrows.
This morning, even though I've still got two dozen huge exams to correct and zero enthusiasm in the tank, I am wondrously thankful that Debbie decided to post me a Facebook note 37 years after she walked home with my lousy words in her ears and heart, words I don't begin to remember ever saying. If once upon a time I blessed Debbie, she's just now blessed me just as surely.
Here she is with her family.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:18 AM