I know a lot of outstanding teachers. Theirs is a difficult job and I have a great deal of sympathy for them. But I had some doozies when I was young. This is about one of them.
It made sense that the meanest teacher of our elementary school had the name, Mrs. Snodgrass. She had a furrowed brow, a curled lip and a high pitched angry voice. She looked on us with disgust and communicated with every fiber of her being how dumb she thought we were. Every day, she’d pick a child, usually an insolent girl named Rhonda, and yank her from her desk to give her a couple of swats.
She ruled with ridicule, spite, and intimidation. The kids mocked her behind her back and froze in fear when her attention focused on them.
She had been a teacher for several decades, but all bad things come to an end, I suppose, and it turns out that our class was her last before she retired. Our little school went on without her and the kids managed to learn even without her menacing ways of persuasion.
She came back once the next year for a visit. We were a little startled to see her but several of us said hello and lied about being glad to see her.
I watched her as she walked across the courtyard to look at her old room. I saw her differently. She was smaller than I remembered, an old lady clutching her purse, her gray hair wrapped in an old fashioned bun. She spent a long moment looking at the little room where she used to reign in terror. She didn’t look angry anymore. In fact, it seemed like all the fire was gone from her with nothing to replace it.
I find myself wondering: Who was Mrs. Snodgrass when she wasn’t a mean fourth grade teacher? Was she married or widowed? Where did she live? Did she have grown children? Did she have any friends? Did she go to church? Did she take any trips after she retired and did anyone go with her?
And what did she think about when she looked at the dinky room where she once ruled with an iron fist? Did she feel any satisfaction from her career as a teacher? Could she look back and remember any students she loved, or who loved her?
I look back on my life now that I’m closer to her age then, and sometimes I feel emptiness, too, and I have many regrets. However, I can also say that I loved and still love the people of my past. I can tell you how our lives intersected. And I have a newer smaller community that continues to increase with interesting people.
I hope that my memories of the woman are flawed, that as a nine-year-old boy I just didn’t see things clearly. Maybe Mrs. Snodgrass was not as mean as I thought.
Actually, she was. But I see her with pity now.