Thank you, Mrs. Small

In the spirit of reflection

I have been thinking about my teachers

The ones who helped me

Inspired me

Sometimes frustrated me

But all of them shaped me


It is funny as you get older

The things you remember

How Mrs. Oldswurtle used to take points off our spelling quiz

If we spelled her name wrong

And I still am not sure I know how to spell it

Oldswurtle is a tough name for a third grader

That’s all I remember about her

Not her face

Not her lessons

But just how finicky she was about spelling her name


I remember the trigonometry teacher

The one who kept reteaching us material because he said he had taught it incorrectly

The day before

How my less than math-oriented brain

Became a hopeless pile of mush in his class

But I can’t even remember his name

Just that he was thin

And somewhat fidgety

I remember my geometry teacher better

The one who let us all take a full page of notes into every test

And how I squeezed so many formulas onto a single page of paper

I memorized them without even realizing it

How she made me love proofs

How she made me love math for the first time

The lovely logic of it


I remember Mrs. Mitchell

She was tough

Making me a better writer

Such long papers I wrote for her

Daily journals

Endless grammar exercises

She rarely smiled

She was not a warm teacher


And when a poet came to school to teach a small group of students

I was not selected because I didn’t have the highest average

A bunch of box-checking students were selected instead

The ones who knew exactly how to score points on a rubric

But had never heard a loon sing and wondered at its beauty

And had never considered the shape of a word

The beauty of its form and function

At how emotion could pour out of description

Without being given a name


I am thankful now for that moment

Disappointing as it was

It made me a better teacher

Now I don’t only look for the ones who can score the most points

I look for the artist

I praise the student with a heart that seeks beauty

Who asks deep questions

Not only the one who can check boxes

The world needs more seekers of beauty

More creators and wonderers

Not only more box checkers


But the teacher I remember the most is Mrs. Small

My eighth grade English teacher

I still can recall the lines she made us memorize from Shakespeare

The challenge of paraphrasing and the joy of discovery

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be”

And how the bard became part of the fabric of who I am

Influenced me to become a theater major

And to go on tour with a Shakespeare company

Just the mere act of requiring a recitation

And how I fell in love with the beauty of the words

And the depth of their meaning


How we read Steinbeck and grew frustrated at the ending of the story

How she let us rewrite the ending of the novella

But required us to write in Steinbeck’s style

How The Pearl became my pearl of wisdom

A window into what is meant by style

Otherwise elusive

Why syntax and diction matter

How character and plot intertwine

How foreshadowing and surprise create interest in a story

She was not one to give praise often

But when she did it was that much more meaningful

How she wrote on my paper that she saved it for last

Because she knew it would be the best

And she was not disappointed

A teacher who actually wanted to read what I wrote

What a gift

A lifetime of being able to express in words

That which is soul deep and heart heavy


So looking back I am thankful for all of them

The good ones as well as the bad

Even the poor teachers taught me something of the world

Of what was important and what was not

But for the ones like Mrs. Small

The ones who inspired me

The ones who encouraged me to write

The ones who saw me

Really saw

Thanks does not seem like a big enough word


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