book shelf

You never know who you will affect.

Recently I was reading an interview of Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, on the website, ‘Achievement Academy’ and I read this sentence: “I had really good teachers in high school. Probably I connected the best with an English teacher that I had my junior year in high school, Miss Sanchez, Jan Sanchez -- God bless her.”  I was amazed! This very same Ms. Sanchez was also my high school English/Humanities teacher. She is also one of my most memorable teachers along with her Humanities partner, Mr. Bill Rice and my junior year English teacher, Miss Mussey. Many times over the years I have wished I could tell them, “Thank you for what you did for me.” I was a late bloomer when it came to following my passion because I could never figure what exactly my passion was, or rather, I was afraid to admit it but I kept thinking, what would my answer be if I ever met them again?

“I climb the stairs,
walk down the hall;
stand in front of the door with my hand on the knob.
Sometimes I open it,
fear slams it shut in my face.
I walk back down the hall and stairs.
Maybe next time.”

I was a lackluster, non-descript student who shuffled aimlessly through most of my schooling, going class to class submitting mediocre assignments. Part of the reason was because I was extremely shy and lacked self-confidence and partly because I was preoccupied with my social life, or rather, lack of. While it may not have been noticable to them, I was listening and watching them, I was digesting everything they said and storing it for later- much later. It took me 9 years to graduate from college because I was preoccupied with marriage, career and raising 3 children, in fact, I am 6 months pregnant with my third child in my graduation picture. I tend to make my own path however slow and meandering it may be. Yes, Khaled, “God bless Ms. Sanchez.” (And Mr. Rice and Miss Mussey). Without them I would never have figured out my passion; reading, writing and history.

graduation

My parents and I (and my daughter) when I finally graduated from SJSU.

I think I should first go a little further back in my education to 3rd and 6th grade at a Catholic school, Regina Caeli, in Quebec, back to Miss Killoran and Mr. Stuart to illustrate how a teacher can, not only, inspire you but save you from bad teachers. These two teachers contributed to my halfhearted attempts at school work and my lack of self-esteem, especially Miss Killoran, an old, vicious spinster, imagine Agatha Trunchbull in Roald Dahl’s Matilda.

agatha

Looking back I think they sincerely believed in the ‘spare the rod’ model of child rearing, yes, Mr. Stuart really used a pointer stick and hit children with it as I was recently reminded by an old school mate, Paul, that he had been pulled up by his ears by Mr. Stuart. Miss Killoran would not let us participate in art projects unless we were drawing biblical pictures in our religious studies scrap book. Meanwhile, we passed through the school hallways and saw colorful, fun arts and crafts that the other classrooms were allowed to create, but not us. One particular day we had done something horrible enough to cause her to be “ashamed and disappointed in my students” consequently, she kept us in for recess, sitting primly, backs rigid with our hands folded on top of our desks as she walked down the orderly, seated by ABC order last name aisles and stopped at each desk to describe publicly our individual flaws. There was a pretty blond girl in class, well-liked by everyone, Miss Killoran stopped at her desk and said, “And, Susan”, with great disdain like the tone of voice Snape used to say, ‘Potter.’,  

snape

“Yes, Susan, the ‘good girl’. You always have to watch out for the ‘good girls’ they will let you down every time.” We were 8 years old. My horrible flaw? I was a terrible speller and she was appalled that I would use words I did not how to spell. To this day, I check to make sure I have spelled correctly- she may still be watching over my shoulder. My one and only detention ever came from Mr. Stuart because I was giggling in the coat room with my friend, Sonya. Yes, we were giggling, I know, disgraceful, but remember it was a Catholic school, not a place for fun and frivolity.

I did make it to high school despite their dire predictions due to my lack of serious effort on school work and attended a mega high school that was an experiment at the time, it was the size of a junior college containing 4 high schools on one campus. An intimidating place, especially for shy and introverted kids. My parents, a small group of friends and teachers enabled me to survive being plankton in an ocean. When I ruminate about high school my vision is of walking through a fog of crowds and voices all around but never being able to make a connection, I had no voice, no way to express myself until Miss Mussey required that we purchase a blank note book and create a daily journal. Sitting at my desk, a blank page with faint blue lines taunted me, “Well? What are you waiting for? Nothing to say?” While the other students were busy scribbling away I looked at that first blank page and a tight knot formed in my stomach, “Write down my thoughts? Everyday? What am I supposed to say?” I didn’t have a clue so at first I was a bit derisive and wrote brief paragraphs on the weather and other boring topics but as the weeks went by I found my ideas and thoughts and dreams flowed out of my mind through the pen onto the paper until I could not call my day complete unless I had made a journal entry. In my senior year I found the courage to submit two poems and one short story to the school's literary publication, Stone Soup. I still have those journals.

stone soup

Miss Mussey was thoughtful enough to recommend me for an experimental program within the new high school, a two class course called Humanities co-taught by Ms. Sanchez and Mr. Rice. Such a gift it was to myself and to many of my friends. The friends I made in that class are still my close friends and we frequently remember that time fondly and hope to one day express to them how much we enjoyed the experience, we reminice about them, “Ah, Rice and Sanchez, don’t you wish we could meet them again?”. They exposed us to World Literature and took us to a Shakespearean play in San Francisco. We created a slide presentation, the equivalent of a Power Point today. Their expectations were high for us and anticipated that we would attend university as a given, “You will need this when you get to college.” OR “Your college professors won’t accept work like this.” I can still hear the Oedipus recording played on an old tape recorder during class in my mind. “Oedipus!” It was because of them that I chose Liberal Arts for my college major. It was because of these 3 teachers that when I retired and thought, “What should I do now?” I have chosen to write, create art and accepted the offer to help get this wonderful website off the ground and make it work. Thank you, all three of you.

humanities

If you work in education or mentor you may never know how you affected someone but you did, many of us sat quietly unnoticed at our desk, but we were listening. We were paying attention. Keep doing what you do because one day that annoying kid or the one sitting with a blank stare or turning in sloppy work may surprise you and be an accomplished person of note.

humanities 5

Still friends 38 years later, Marisa, myself, Gary, Susie and Danette sharing memories, books and conversation.

Deborah Baron

Deborah Baron

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