Miss Judy, a very long time ago, you had a major life-changing impact on my life. I’m hoping that you will see this, recognize yourself, and accept my heartfelt “thank you.” I am sorry that I do not know if Judy is your last name or if Judy is your first name and you just told us to call you “Miss Judy.” Either way, I am thankful you were my teacher.
You were my 2nd-grade teacher in 1956 in Richmond, Indiana. I think the school was called Westview Elementary, but I can not remember the name for sure. I can not be sure, but I think you were a first-year teacher and I think you got married the next year. I DO know that you were young and energetic and I simply adored you.
You most likely will not remember me because I worked very hard at not being noticed. I was painfully shy so I always tried to melt into the wallpaper so no one would see me or call on me. That tells you everything about my self-concept at the time. My report cards from those early school years all say the same thing: “Shirley is not working up to her potential” and “Shirley wears too much.” My last name at the time was too hard to pronounce so I suspect it would not spark your memory, but the Prayer Mantis incident might.
I have two distinct memories from 2nd grade:
1. The Prayer Mantis Incident. We had a Praying Mantis in a jar (I do not remember if you or someone else bought it in). When we all arrived at school one morning, we found hundreds or thousands of teeny tiny baby Praying Mantises all over the room. We, students, were all so excited. I expect that you were less so. I have no idea how anyone ever got them all out, and I have no idea how you ever got a bedroom full of 2nd graders with baby insects back under control. I wish I could remember both things.
2. The Fingers Incident. (You may not remember this at all, but it had a major impact on me both in a positive and a negative way.) One day early in the year you asked the class how many fingers we each had. Somehow I folded together enough bravery to actually raise my hand. You called me – probably thrilled to see me participating. I proudly and confidently said “10.” You said “NO.” You said we had 8 fingers and 2 thumbs. Of course, everyone else laughed.
I was crushed and embarrassed, and probably did not raise my hand in any class again until high school math. To this day, I hate being criticized and/or laughed at. I was also ANGRY. In my head, I kept shouting “but thumbs are fingers, too.” I was just too shy to stand up and say it. I also felt I had been tricked – by my teacher. I can still feel the anger and embarrassment.
By all rights, I should have been angry with you, but I never was. I think that somehow I knew that you were learning, too. I might have stayed angry if things had not changed; But on that day, I think you saw in my face that you had made a mistake; And like all good teachers do, you learned and adjusted. You applied what you had learned and for the remainder of the year, we all absolutely adored you. You made us all feel special.
My most important memory from 2nd grade is that you made me feel special. For the first time, I felt special. And, as to the “Fingers Incident” – that turned out for the good as well. At the tender age of 7, I learned in a vivid way that it was important to always make others feel good about their honest efforts and that no one should ever cause embarrassment to others. I took these lessons to heart and they became the foundation of who I am as a person and a teacher.
Thank you, Miss Judy!