August 28, 2015
“The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth’.” -Dan Rather
STUFF I KNOW BY ME © Kathleen McKern Verigin
The first time I remember feeling back to school anxiety was the August before starting fourth grade. No longer safely roaming Roosevelt’s first floor, I would soon have to ascend the ancient stairway to the second floor. That’s where the big kids were, including my older sister and brother, and my fourth grade teacher, the wicked Miss Meads. For years I held her accountable for my fear of writing. In vivid detail, I remember the day when she ordered me to the blackboard to diagram a sentence, in front of the whole class. I failed miserably. Was it performance anxiety? Stupidity? Or the fact that I disappointed her?
The Miss Meads I remember was tall and skinny. Her face was pinched in a permanent scowl made even more dramatic by the glasses that perched on her pointed nose. Even though she was bone thin, I recall the flapping of her upper arm flab when she wrote on the chalkboard.
Today, while pondering the millions of children who are going back to school, some entering the fourth grade, I thought about Miss Meads. Who was she, really?
From the 1962 archives of the Ames Tribune: “I like fourth grade the best, because by then the teaching tools are pretty well taught and the children are ready to branch out on their own.” The article, honoring her retirement, went on to say, “Miss Gladys Meads started teaching at Roosevelt Elementary School in 1940. She estimates that in her years of teaching more than 1,500 children have come under her jurisdiction.”
Intrigued, I looked up the definition of jurisdiction: “the right, power, or authority to administer justice.” Yep, that sounds like Miss Meads. The ultimate task master, both judge and jury. Perhaps the humiliation I recall from her admonishment that I couldn’t diagram a sentence if my life depended on it, was really her way of telling me that she saw something in me. This McKern kid, one of four in my family and an estimated 1,500 students over time, was smart enough to get the importance of a well written sentence. Perhaps she was my champion, and not my nemesis. Miss Meads, I owe you an apology.
I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.
It is my belief that as we heal in this moment, we also heal the passing forward of our limiting stories to future generations. And, sometimes even more importantly, we heal back in time. As I have had this revelation, I invite you to reflect on past teachers in your life. Is there someone to whom you owe a debt of gratitude? Someone to whom you owe an amends? Someone to whom you simply want to say, thank you? Then do it. Because We Are One, and we’re all in this together.