13. January 2007 · Comments Off on Reaching Gratitude · Categories: Memoir, Pajama Game

I once had a teacher that I hated. Sandra Mahan. No one looked forward to being in her class, and I don’t recall any kids having great things to say about her after having had her. She was notoriously “mean” and taught sixth grade. On the first day of school in sixth grade, I was full of dread. When she came in, she told us that 3 students would be moving to the other sixth grade class, and asked who wanted to go. Now the other sixth grade teacher was the former fifth grade teacher. I loved her. Granted she cut me no slack, and I didn’t push her since she went to school with my mom and got her hair done by my uncle. She wouldn’t hesitate to announce any of my shenanigans to my family. Still, I didn’t raise my hand to go back. I remembered how our fourth grade teacher had a “mean” reputation and she wasn’t that bad other than giving us lots of homework. Oh, no; Mrs. Mahan’s reputation was spot on.

Sixth grade was a miserable year. That woman stayed on me to the point I knew that she had singled me out as her problem child. Every morning I woke up dreading school, but kept thinking that sixth grade was only one year. Finally we reached the end of the year, and she announced that she would be returning to school over the summer to get her certification for high school math. She would become the junior high and basic math teacher starting in the fall. Oh, no. Two more years in her class. Seventh grade wasn’t too awful bad, but eighth grade was pure hell. Ninth grade was a new beginning. No more of her classes. It was nice, and then we moved and I transferred to a new school.

There were a couple of teachers at my new school with similar reputations, but the one taught a class I wasn’t going to be taking. The other, however, was waiting for senior year. Her class was my last class of the day as a senior. Mary Oates taught world history, and I wasn’t much of a history fan so I expected another year of hell. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Sure she was tough, and you didn’t play in her class, but she made history fun to learn. She taught us how to take notes properly, though I still suck at it. She became my favorite teacher even though most people could not stand her.

Despite the fact that I took all advanced courses in high school, and even a couple of Advance Placement courses, I was totally unprepared for college. I never dreamed I could be so happy with C’s. It took me 6 years, but I finally graduated with slightly better than a C GPA. Then I joined the Air Force since the job market around the area was such that I was looking forward to toiling away in a factory for who knew how long. The factory was fine for summer jobs, but I needed something more, and had to go away to get it.

I have often looked back over my short (8 year) Air Force career and said that basic training was my best assignment. I know how sad that sounds because I did not enjoy basic training in the least. Anyway, thanks to my age and height, I was assigned as an element leader. So not only did I get yelled at when I screwed up, I got yelled at when the girls in my element did anything. Granted, I had the best element anyone could hope to get, so I didn’t often get yelled at over them. However, ever time a TI was in my face chewing me out, I kept thinking, “I made it through three years of Sandra Mahan. This is nothing.” As I was studying in Tech School, and getting damn good scores because of it, something started to dawn on me. Mrs. Mahan was not riding my ass because she was mean; she was riding my ass because she knew I could do so much more than I was doing. She expected me to live up to my potential. *Gasp!*

I went back and started looking at what I learned from her. She taught us mind tricks to help us remember concepts. For instance, I never “got” the greater than “>” and less than “<” symbols. That gave me problems all through elementary school. I knew which number was larger, but I couldn’t keep the symbols straight. She gave me the key: the point points at the smaller number. In eighth grade, our school got some computers. Not many mind you. But the high school got three Commodore 64 computers, and each of the math teachers had one in their classroom. When Mrs. Mahan was telling us about it and what it could do, she decided to have someone come up and actually sit at the keyboard while she continued the explanation. She picked me, and I instantly bonded with that computer. I have often wondered why she picked me, but as I sat there while she instructed, I knew I wanted to work with computers when I grew up. So, if you were to ask me today who was my favorite teacher, I would still say Ms. Oates. However, I believe my best teacher was Sandra Mahan. I still find it ironic after all these years that as much as I hated her back then, who would have ever dreamed I would not only get over that misguided hate, but would hold her responsible for finally getting through my thick head what it takes to succeed. She tried and tried to get me to push myself when all I wanted to do was have fun. Now that I see what she was trying to do with me, I wish I had realized it earlier, and I am grateful to her for her efforts. It took a lot longer than it should have, but she did finally succeed with me.

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