I remember sitting on the mat, near the front, and to the left of Mrs B. It was the first day of the new school year, and I’d just been moved into “The Unit” – two classrooms joined into one, in the middle of the junior primary school. Possibly because it was the first day of school, everything seemed so noisy. Other children were talking to their friends they hadn’t seen since school got out the year before. A couple of boys were running around the large room, while one of the younger teachers was loudly telling them off. But, I looked straight ahead, blocking out everything as I looked at Mrs B. talking.
Mrs B. started to called out the role. My name wasn’t on it. I continued sitting there, frozen in fear… confused as to what this meant. I thought that if I stayed quiet enough, no one would notice that I wasn’t meant to be there. What was one more child to a teacher, anyway? I didn’t like the look of the other teachers, they were younger and didn’t have the kind eyes of Mrs B. So I sat there, trying to sink into the mat. Then, the inevitable happened… a boy from the group I was meant to be in, came looking for the me. In a daze, I followed him to the group I was meant to be in. I didn’t look over my shoulder, I’d learned not to look back…
I sat with the rest of the class that I was assigned to be in, dazed and unsure. I didn’t like this new teacher, she was the one who had been yelling at the boys. Her face was full of harsh lines, nothing like the softness of Mrs B. She told me to sit at the front… possibly so that I wouldn’t escape from her again. That is all that I remember of that teacher… her harsh face and voice.
Throughout the year, the classes intermingled to some extent. If you needed something, you were to go to your assigned teacher first, but could ask one of the others, if yours wasn’t available. My main memory of this class, besides the noise, was the writing we were asked to do. This was the first time we were asked to use our imagination to write a story. We were to then take our story to a teacher to have it checked. I hated having my work checked… my spelling has never been stunning, and creativity was never my strong suit. On one occasion, I took my story to be checked by Mrs B. She read it through, and showed me how each of my sentences started with the same word. She suggested that I go and re-write it so that it wasn’t all the same. I remember being crushed by her criticism, because I liked Mrs B., I wanted everything I showed her to be perfect… I saw perfection as the only way that anyone would like me.
I don’t remember how long it took me to re-write my story, but I was one of the last to go and get it re-checked. I felt numb as I approached Mrs B. a second time. I bit down on the inside of my mouth as she read my story. I stood silently, waiting. When she raised her arm, I flinched… I remained like stone as she draped her arm around my shoulders, pulled me up against the side of her body, and hugged me. It was only as she started praising me, that I relaxed… I still remember her voice telling me that she knew I could do it. She gave me one last gentle squeeze, before releasing me and writing an A on my paper.
As I walked back to my desk, I was beaming… I’d finally done something right.
These are the main memories I have of the first teacher who showed me kindness. Other teachers since Mrs B. have shown me kindness, but I’ll always remember that hug. I don’t know if she hugged other children, I imagine she did… I don’t know if she realised the importance of that hug for me, I doubt it. I imagine that for Mrs B., it was something she did as a reward for good work… for me, it was about being touched in a safe way, acceptance and kindness.
Thank you Mrs B. Thank you for showing an awkward child that there was such a thing as safety in this world.
The Expressive Arts Carnival this month is to provide three words, and a hex colour code to contribute towards a healing word cloud. My three words are: safety, acceptance and kindness. I chose purple as the colour for my words, because for me, it represents protection and safety.
Thank you Paul… I needed the reminder that healing doesn’t always have to be painful.