December 4, 2010

Mrs. inCredible

I have an amazing Asian Art teacher. We will call her Mrs. C. She's middle-aged and has children in grade-school. She always wears something pretty. She has longer hair- golden, with streaks of silver. She has a snappy, witty, no-nonsense teaching style. She's fair (and generous with the extra credit opportunities), and she packs her lectures. But what I particularly like about her is her smile.

Her smile makes mine. I walk into her class- just happy to be there- and begin to smile. Sometimes it's something I say (I usually manage to say something) and then her's lights up (mirroring, making, magnifying mine). Her eyes twinkle, her grin grows wide- mischievous in its irrepressibility. And my smile breaks anew all over.

I confess I make myself a nuisance in her class. I swear I only do it in hers (well, maybe a bit in Psych, too). But the class is so fascinating- it gets my mind going. I delight in the one class I have during the week in which I can learn- where despite apathetic fellow students I have a teacher who actually teaches. I revel in my fifty minutes.

I'm not sure how I do it. I have yet to figure it out. I comment- I ask a question- I misunderstand something- and somehow she finds it amusing. Annoying in an endearing way. I don't mean to be annoying. I know she likes me.

About a week into class I asked her if I was asking and answering too many questions. She told me I needed to figure it out by my "inner compass" and that my enthusiasm was something special- "You're great." I have tried to answer less questions- I don't know how successful I have been. But I try. Sometimes my hand begins to go up, and with a  sidelong glance at me Mrs. C's hand makes a small motion- and mine goes back down.

I often wonder what it is in my questions that strikes her so. Sometimes my questions are admittedly stupid (but who will ask the stupid questions if I don't?) But then sometimes they are very good. And I'm getting top grades. So I can't be that stupid.

The class likes me too. In a similar way- annoyed, yet endeared.

Part of our tests is a critique of one of the pieces of art we've covered over the section (India, China, and Japan). Before the test she tells us a list of 7-10  images from which she'll pick from- so we can be prepared to critique any of them. She rattles of the page numbers- and you better believe we pay attention.

One time, she began telling us at the end of a Friday class- but didn't finish. On Monday she began a new list and couldn't remember all the numbers she'd said previously. Well, I didn't want her to suddenly remember them on the test-day, so I filled her in, "78 and 76."

The class erupted. Murmurs. Indignation. Frustration- and, most strikingly, above them all drifted my name. They were, evidently, exasperated that I had reminded her.

But Mrs. C was as taken aback by the sudden out-break as I was and her eyes glanced at me in an amused, twinkling sort of way. So I was fine, despite being shocked at the reaction I had received. (I did need a little comforting- the girl next to me assured in a whisper that they liked me.)

I can hear her voice. "Come on, People!" She instills enthusiasm. She urges us to think. We give the answer. "Hello!" she cries out in triumph. My New Yorky teacher.

She told us this past week, "pretend this is the most important 50 minutes of your life." It wasn't a stretch for me. Of the semester? Of the week? Of the school day? I settled down more comfortably in my chair, letting my happiness suffuse over my face. She happened to be standing in front of me. Her grin grows wide. "You're killing me." she says.

Sometimes I wonder if I did something or other right- if this or that is ok. "You'll be fine."  she tells me. (One of the men in my class tells me I take things too seriously.) One time I doubted that the ancient Japanese knew about locks (they made massive grave mounds in the shape of a key hole). One time I thought a statue of Kannon (Kuan Yin) was a he. One time I asked for a date which was in our book. Another time I asked for a date that was not in our book. (Now she dates things for me on the board.) Once I made her do a double take when I told her the answer (she was looking for) to the type of art inspired by the natural catastrophes witnessed by the neolithic Japenese was sublime. (Yay for last year's World Literature teacher. She's deserves her own post.) Once I said something and all she said was, "I'm going to miss you." That made me happy.

She said it again Wednesday. One of the girls was making a deal about the Japanese gardens not having sand but... pebbles. Mrs. C was explaining there isn't much of a difference. It was becoming a class discussion on pebbles and how sand is created. I noted that California has large sand. She turned to me again, "I'm going to miss you.... but not yet!"

I'd like to think I brighten her day like she brightens mine. She asked to borrow my vocab sheet at the beginning of class. I reminded her to give it back- last time I'd lent it I never got it back. She would be sure to.

Class ended. And sure enough I saw her packing up her books shutting away all the papers in them. I went up to her and asked for my sheet back saucily. She smiles and grins at me and laughs and says something- I don't remember what- and goes looking for it.

I leave. I haven't told her yet. But when I registered (you remember me registering?) I signed up for her class next semester.


  1. Beautiful pictures and very interesting thoughts! Glimpses of that classroom dance between the few fascinated students and the inspired teacher, while others sit back not quite understanding the energetic footwork of claims, questions, and replies.

    I read yesterday and this evening from a leather-bound collection of poems and prose by a 17-year-old student. I had never seen the book before nor imagined it existed. But I spend an hour or more each day at the medical facility with this same person, my mother, trying to help, trying to figure things out, and trying to get some of my own work done at the same time.

    I don't know what teacher she had in 1946 to inspire her. She wrote of conflict, the wars, air-raid sirens, and of Christianity and of the individual vs. the state (and even of the Spanish Inquisition!). She wrote of salt water too, and the Sound (Puget Sound), where she grew up swimming in the summer's near-freezing waters (as I did three decades later).

    In college I was entranced by one particular professor. I asked endless questions and with others circled his office waiting to ask more questions. I took more classes from Paul Heyne, and asked many more questions. Paul had a degree in divinity before studying economics. I was skeptical of Christianity before I met Paul.

    Years later my mother returned to college and took an economics class from Paul Heyne. And after that my mother and I never argued again about left-wing articles in Newsweek.

    Very sadly Paul died ten years ago. I would have loved to have him give talks about ethics and economics to homeschool students at FEE. He would have loved the questions after and students would have been fascinated by his replies....

    So... three cheers for inspiring teachers and energetic students!


  2. Ah, thank you for your comment, Greg Rehmke! Fascinating story- I should like to read poems written by someone so long ago about current events and her life. Must have been so interesting.

    Yes! Wonderful teachers! I am so happy I have her (I couldn't pass up the chance to have her again next semester). It is always a blessing to have teachers who expand your mind and change how you see the world.

    And you know- you were one of those people in my life, too. We (ALL) love your economics seminars- you are such a wonderfully engaging and approachable teacher. Thank YOU and three cheers to YOU. :-)


  3. Hey Linda,

    I have been really enjoying reading your notes here. I love your insights and thoughts. I just wanted to ask, was this certain literature teacher by any chance Mrs. Kindel on TPS?

    Miss you,
    Anna Warren

  4. Hey, Anna! Thanks. :-) YES! It was Mrs. Kindel- through Potter School. I LOVED her (and one of these days I'll post a poem about that World Literature class...)

    I'll be seeing you (soon :-))