Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dear Miss Quill


This post is written for the great teachers out there, the ones that go beyond their job description. Teachers like you make a difference every day in the lives of kids, like the kind I used to be. Thank you.
***

English is not my first language, Spanish is.

I went to grade school in the early 70s, where a non-English speaking child was placed in what was then called "Special C" classes, short for Special Curriculum. There were no ESL programs, or mainstreamed classrooms, I was in a room with all types of kids, with all types of Special C needs. I did a lot of playing--mostly with Colorforms. I had taught myself to read at home, with my grandmother's Spanish books, but there were no books in Spanish at school, so I colored a lot instead.

There were numbers, math. That I could do. Math. You didn't need English to do math. My days were spent with unusual children, like me, at an open floor space. There were no desks, we were on our mats, playing with shapes, doing random math, and coloring. I went through crisp white coloring pages like popcorn.

Aside from not speaking English as well as the others, I was also odd in another way: my lunches. Papaya, mango, goat cheese. I was odd, there is no other way to put it--but, also smart. That I didn't know yet.

My kindergarten teacher was happy with me, as was my first grade teacher--I was always quiet in the corner. I never caused anyone any problems, any extra work, any anything for anybody. I can't remember the names of my kindergarten or first grade teachers. But, in the second grade, I met Miss Quill.

From the first day I was with her, Miss Quill looked at me. She made eye contact with me on a daily basis. Her eyes were green, a hazelly green. She had pupils that vibrated back and forth like hummingbirds, but I got used to that. When I think back on it, I can figure out that she must have just graduated from college--she shared a house with two or three other young women. She was like me, odd. Tall, with a peculiar exaggerated gait. Her hair was the straightest hair I'd ever seen, and stopped just below her earlobes. Miss Quill dressed in simple patterns, except for the days she wore my favorite--her green and yellow paisley shirt dress. With everything, she wore her predictable ivory square-toed pumps.

She brought books for me to read at school, and math games. She'd read to me when I'd visit her (you could do that back then.) On the weekends, she'd take me to the library. We'd pick out books in English for me and she was always amazed at the size stack I chose. She would have me over to her house, where together we'd do art projects with cut out raw potatoes and stamp pads. All on that wonderfully huge school issue construction paper.

For Christmas, Miss Quill gave me my first books in English, Little House on The Prairie. I still have them. Of course, the year ended, and I went on to third grade. I don't remember that teacher's name. All would have been the same for me as it was in kindergarten, and first grade--with me in a corner, quietly doing math problems except that this time, I started out the third grade school year with a head full of English books that had been read to me, memories of trips to the library, and art projects hanging on the walls of my bedroom.

At the start of the third grade, I was sent for placement testing. On that one day, after I was tested and then re-tested, because the examiner couldn't believe my scores, and then was interviewed over and over about when and where I had suddenly learned to read and write so well, I was pulled out of the "Special C" classroom and placed into the gifted/talented classroom. This was the 70s; there were no IEP's, no parent/teacher conference; no notifications that went home. Things were just done.

I don't know what happened to Miss Quill after second grade. I was too little to know how to keep track of her and our school had two buildings: one for lower grades, one for upper grades. But I never forgot her presence in my life. I've often wanted to write her, call her, find her, to tell her Miss Quill? I love you. Do you know that, Miss Quill? I wish I had known enough to tell you then. I'm saying it now, and I'm hoping the universe somehow carries this message to you.


Little House on The Prairie (I finished it in one day)

52 comments:

  1. smiles...i had some pretty amazing teachers in my day...mrs callahan...my english teacher that encouraged me to write...i tried to find her recently and couldnt but out there somewhere she knows what she unleashed...haha

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    1. Wouldn't it be wonderful for her to know, B?

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  2. Teachers can have super-powers. I hope they all know that. Love this. There's always that one teacher who did it for us. xoxo

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    1. Would love to hear of your most wonderful teacher, and hoping you had one, T.

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  3. As a former teacher, I know that there are always those special kids who reach in and touch your heart, who you know need you for something special at that particular time in their lives. My guess is that the sweet, little you in the picture had a special effect on Miss Quill, as well.

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  4. Oh, that is awesome! God bless Miss Quill. You needed so much more than they were giving you; you needed to be challenged.

    And how great that you still have your copy of Little House on the Prairie.

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  5. How cute are you in that picture? VERY. I still say you had the best lunches of anyone. You were so ahead of the times, eating fruit for lunch!! I LOVE GOAT CHEESE.

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    1. Oh, how I wish I could cook for you, Suzy: Spanish rice, soaked black beans with ox tail, and grated goat cheese on top.

      You'd love it.

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  6. Adore this post, I'm Spanish too and had a similar experience in school, my pack lunch of tortilla and chargrilled peppers. The one teacher I connected with was in high school my history teacher said she could see my passion, the others not so much. I become a teacher, then progressed into the niche of child behaviour . Teachers can make you believe.

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    1. Thank you!! Have to come meet you now.

      Thank you, again.

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  7. It's such a blessing when a teacher like that comes into our lives and changes it forever for the better. They are special people. My son has a teacher like that now. He was a Buddhist Monk and so my son came home one day and announced that he had been so inspired by this teacher that he wanted to be a Buddhist Monk someday too. I told him that was wonderful, but first he'd have to justify his affinity for violent video games. ;)

    I read all the Little House books too. Devoured them. I loved that series so much.

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    1. Series of books, that is...but also the tv series! ;)

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  8. Little House on the Prairie changed my life.

    Current estimates have its effects at 1/100,000,000 the effect on me that it had on you.

    May everyone have a Ms. Quill and may everyone tell her. From the bottom of their hearts.

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    1. I know. I felt so much for her, gratitude, love, comfort, it was overwhelming--it left me silent.

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  9. This post took me across the spectrum:

    sad for that little girl who was odd and special and unseen but inspired by the reminder that one person can make a difference in the life of a child. By noticing. Caring. Loving.

    Thank you for reminding me why I was always felt blessed and humbled to be a teacher. From the bottom of my heart, I wanted to be a Miss Quill. I did.

    I do.

    I have been gone for so long and your posts always welcome me home. You are a teacher too, you know.

    You are.

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    1. "Why I always felt" not "was always felt."

      And I'm an English teacher.

      Sheesh.

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    2. You are a wonderful force of nature, Julie. Thank YOU.

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  10. Kudos to all the teachers that not only know how to teach, but how to inspire. Some can truly make a difference!

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    1. The right teacher for the child who needed her, that was Miss Quill. I'll always remember her page boy side parted hair, and her square toed white patent pumps. Always.

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  11. Fabulous piece, my friend. Even so, the picture trumps it. Thanks for sharing both. (My Miss Quill was Mrs. Green.)

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    1. Post on Mrs. Green, won't you, Nancy? I love your memoir pieces.

      xo

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  12. I love this post as much as I love those big, brown, gorgeous eyes. No wonder Miss Quill saw something special! I hope my boys find their Miss Quill one of these days. In the meantime, I must remember to take out the Colorforms more often.

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    1. Colorforms still make me misty eyed.

      SO HAPPY TO SEE YOU. Can't wait to see you in Chicago, Let's do something. xo

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  13. I love that picture of little you. So inquisitive, kind and intelligent.

    I hope that all children will have a Miss Quill. I really do.

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    1. I do, too.

      How fortunate I was. Lucky in life.

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  14. Oh my goodness, that photo! But then I always have a soft spot for photos. Amazing teachers are well, amazing. I had some too in my life that I will never forget. I just love how you and Miss Quill hung out... :)

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  15. So beautiful. It's so nice to read things like this when there is so much negativity about teachers lately. Parts of this story reminded me of Matilda by Roald Dahl and Matilda's relationship with Miss Honey.

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  16. that just looks like augie. you look like augie.

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  17. All it takes is one good teacher to light the fire. I wish there were tons more to keep it burning. We're trying out here.

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  18. Wow. That made me cry. Maybe because this is the 15th some odd day in a row that I couldn't sleep and ended up reading blog posts in the middle of the night. What a great lesson this is. Some times we feel like we can't do anything to help all that is going on around us. This post reminds me that all I am asked to do is help the one who is before me.

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  19. She sounds like an amazing lady! What joy she brought to her students. It sounds like she loved each of you and loved teaching.

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    1. She was odd, like me. Like I said in the post, her pupils would rattle back and forth. I should google what that is ...

      She was very kind hearted.

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  20. What a wonderful story! I never really had any teachers that left a lasting impression on me. I'm sure the universe is sending her your love in some form.

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  21. This is so lovely :) i had a special connection with my teacher all through elementary school. I went to a private school so I had her the whole time. I've tried to find her but she moved to another country and disappeared :/

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    1. I know. I think, so very often, how much I would have loved to have said: YOU CHANGED MY LIFE.

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  22. ALEXANDRA!!!! Oh, HIIIIII! I've missed you :( Very bad bloggy friend I am. I'm so sorry. But it's lovely to step into yur home again. I even took my shoes off! How was your Thanksgiving?

    Also, you look SO CUTE in this photograph, SO SWEET. I imagine you'd be every teacher's dream pupil. I hope the universe sends this message out to Miss Quill. She sounds like a very special woman.

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  23. As a teacher I especially love this. So glad that you ran into someone who knew to discover your true gifts. Thank you so much for acknowledging the power of good teachers!

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    1. Thank you, Sarah. How are you??

      This is the thing: GOOD TEACHERS make all the difference in the world. Especially for the ones like me, on the edge. xo

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  25. Great thank you note to her. I hope she finds it!

    And HOW CUTE WERE YOU?!?!

    Adorable.

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  26. I love the photo at the end. I had some amazing teachers, women and men who made me believe that I could do anything. I will be forever grateful.

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    1. Exactly. She changed my life. I would have been in Special C forever. No one took the time, except for her.

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  27. That is such an adorable picture of you.

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  29. And what an amazing writer you are now. Thank goodness for teachers like Miss Quill...she recognize your talent and encouraged you and because of her we have you too!

    Like always I feel I am reading my life story when I read yours...from the "Special C" classes to the surprise scores to the special teacher to the gift of the Little House on the Prairie book set. It is almost eerie, Alexandra! I would have to say that I am very fortunate that my Miss Quill is still in my life. She's in her mid 70s now, and she is like a third grandmother to my son. We try to see her whenever we visit my parents back home.

    By the way, by chance I landed on an old post of yours from Father's Day this year, the one you wrote on Tiki Tiki. Your post left me with a long stillness in my heart. I am so sorry for your loss. My father almost looks like your father (he'd lived a long time in Peru; some people wondered if he was even Chinese!), and the way you described your feelings toward him was the way I would describe those early feelings I had toward my dad. How precious that you have those vivid, vivid memories of him. It was a beautiful tribute. xo

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    1. We really need to meet one day, Ceci.

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  30. You are so cute! I would have been so happy to have you as my student. (or my kid) (grin)

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  31. I remember her! Didn't she have us all over?? For art and stuff,r ight?

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