“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
– Maya Angelou
I generally tend to avoid pithy quotes, particularly mushy-sounding ones, but when I learned today that one of my former teachers died unexpectedly on Monday, this quote was the first thing that came to mind.
I only remember a few of the lessons we covered in Ms. G’s classes. She taught me American History in seventh grade, and the only things I remember from that class are being forced to work in small groups with boys that I thought were dumb and writing an angry letter to President Clinton (post-Lewinsky-scandal), telling him he ought to have more integrity and set a better example for us kids. My classmates and I used to joke that we were obviously Ms. G’s favorite students of all time, because after teaching us in middle school she “followed” us to the big public high school to teach us again there. In her high school Bio class, we dissected frogs and talked about dominant and recessive genes, and I learned that the red hair I had when I was born was rare… or something. As far as lessons go, that’s about all I can recall.
What I remember much more vividly is the way Ms. G delighted in her students. No matter how annoying we were—and as Gifted and Talented students, one of our greatest “talents” was pushing our teachers’ buttons—she was always beaming at us, even when she “fussed” us. Despite how I loathed Biology and wasn’t particularly interested in History, I never disliked being in her classroom. It was a place of joy. I remember how incredibly easy it was to make Ms. G laugh, and how she didn’t mind when we laughed at her quirks, like her pronunciation of the word “Chews-day” or the photos of Brad Pitt (her “future husband”) that she had taped up on the door of the mini-fridge behind her desk. She never took herself too seriously, so when we were on her turf, we couldn’t take ourselves too seriously, either. Now that I teach some incredibly bright teenagers who often suffer needlessly because they’re so caught up in themselves and the all-consuming seriousness of EVERYTHING, I recognize just what a gift we were given in Ms. G—to have the chance to be around at least one person every day who reminded us to “chill out!” and told us (without actually telling us) that everything was going to be fine.
I can’t remember everything Ms. G taught me, but I will always remember her contagious joy. If it’s within my power to leave a mark on my students’ memories with that same sort of positivity and love (and I’m not sure I was convinced that it was within my power until today), then I have some big shoes to fill indeed.