In observing this year’s theme for Random Acts of Kindness Week, I will be sharing stories about people who have had an impact on my life. The RAK Foundation encourages us to think about who has shown kindness, walked alongside or offered a helping hand by asking the question, Who’s your one?
Having excluded family members, I asked myself…who has shown up in my life that was a game changer? I made a list this morning and as I practice acts of kindness this week, I will be aware of the impact these beautiful souls have had on me, and sharing each day about one of them.
The first name on my list belongs to my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Cathy. I have always been a good student. I’m a first born, and a January girl. Overachieving and pushing myself to excel are traits that are definitely in my nature. The truth is, I didn’t enjoy my first few years in school.
Early on, my teachers just didn’t get me. I was an enigma to them. I already knew how to read when I began kindergarten and that seemed to throw off my teachers. I remember being taken to the big kids’ library as a five year old and being handed books to test my reading abilities. Two teachers and the principal huddled in the corner, watching me. In loud whispers they wondered aloud if I had somehow memorized the stories, hence the random pulling of books off of shelves. I was relieved when they finally believed that I could read. Thereafter I was allowed special library privileges…but I felt like a freak for being singled out and quizzed. I learned in kindergarten to hide what I could do.
My first grade experiences bored me endlessly. The Dick and Jane books were frustrating to me. “See Spot run. Run, Spot, run. Oh, Dick. Oh, Jane. Oh, oh, oh. See Spot run.” Oh brother, I thought. I sat at my desk a lot, drawing and working on other projects. My teacher looked at me often with suspicion, I thought! Another teacher asked me if I was really that smart, or was I cheating somehow. I just stared at her.
I don’t even remember much about the next two grades. The turning point, thankfully, came in fourth grade. My teacher was Mrs. Cathy and thanks to her, I came to appreciate school and look forward to it. Mrs. Cathy had a pleasantly plump figure and short dark hair. She favored cardigans over her dresses and blouses, and sensible shoes. I loved her.
This energetic woman was always smiling or laughing and never shushed her students for laughing out loud either. She made learning interesting and fun, creating games that increased our retention. She allowed kids to learn at the pace that was right for them. Thinking about her this morning, I realized my penchant for creating fun games for myself, something I still practice, was most likely inspired by the brilliant Mrs. Cathy.
The most important thing about Mrs. Cathy was this. She loved everyone. She treated all of her students with warmth and humor and made each boy or girl feel important. I was at a really awkward stage by fourth grade. My hair was growing out, from the last short hairstyle I would ever have. I was in my chubby phase. I was a bookworm, soaking up knowledge like a sponge. And, I was already adept at hiding huge parts of who I was and very cautious about how much I shared.
Mrs. Cathy made me feel like she saw who I really was and she liked me, as I was. She made everyone feel that way. At Christmas time Mrs. Cathy’s desk was covered with small packages from her appreciative and adoring students. I had asked my teacher what she wanted, if she could have anything in the world. With a laugh she replied, “A new car…a blue one!” I bought her a tiny blue car and gave it to her as a Christmas gift. I’m sure I must have bought her something else as well. I’ve forgotten what that gift was. But I will remember forever her peals of delighted laughter when she opened my gift. She wiped tears from her eyes and gave me a tight hug.
I searched the internet this morning, trying to locate my teacher. Sadly, I don’t know what her first name was, and whether she was really Mrs. Cathy or a Miss. She has most likely passed on, as she was in her 40s back in 1967. I could not find any information about her at all. I did locate an alumni group for William McKinley Elementary School in Tulsa Oklahoma, on Facebook. I made a request to join that group. Perhaps I will link up with a former classmate there who can tell me more.
I don’t have a photo of Mrs. Cathy. I don’t need one. I can see her clearly today in my mind, more than 50 years later. She is forever captured in my memories, wearing a dark skirt, white blouse and blue cardigan, head tipped back and eyes squeezed tight as she laughs and gathers a child close in an encouraging embrace.
Alexandra K. Trenfor wrote, “The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see.” Thank you Mrs. Cathy, for being one of my influencers, for changing the way I felt about school, and even how I felt about myself, and for showing me where to look. I’m sending you waves of love and gratitude. I hope you know what a difference you made in my life.