Lessons From a Tiger Teacher by Deborah Bryan
My guest writer today is Deborah Bryan from The Monster in Your Closet. I met Deb when she was Freshly Pressed. She posted this powerful, personal piece, and I thought she was so brave. Then we got to tweeting.
Later, I won a contest she was running and she sent me a book of poetry and an autographed copy of her own book, The Monster’s Daughter. Then we got to emailing and calling.
Deb has an awesome life. Sometimes she’s a mom, and sometimes she dresses up like a zombie. And sometimes she lands guest spots on reality television shows. And that is why I hate her. I mean I adore her, but I’m jealous. I mean, where is my camera crew? 😉
Read Deb’s beautiful piece about her Lesson Learned. Check out her blog, and follow her on Twitter at @deb_bryan.
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Lessons From a Tiger Teacher
I spent most of my early life assuming I’d make a mess of my later life. I was poor and headstrong, both of which seemed to be cons that outweighed pros such as intelligence, writing skill and my dastardly ability to flex the second knuckle of each finger.
I went through the motions of school, but I invested myself only minimally. Why on earth would I want to forego reading time to do homework whose long-term benefit I couldn’t really grasp? I’d plow through my assignments at the last moment just to avoid my mom’s not-quiet lectures on the importance of education, but my effort was strictly “just enough.” I didn’t see the point of doing more.
Mrs. Stamm changed that.
At first, I knew her as the personable, quirky teacher of my high school’s Asian Arts class. Her unique perspective on just about everything left me laughing more often than not. Over the first couple of weeks of the course, I came to enjoy classes with her so much that I approached her about taking her Chinese class as well. She was ecstatic about the inquiry, rightly seeing it as a compliment to her teaching. She approved my joining first-year Chinese late in the term.
It was a little disconcerting jumping into Chinese three weeks late, but I caught up pretty quickly. Within a few days, Mrs. Stamm started returning my quizzes with “A+++” scrawled across the top.
After class, I’d ask her questions about what we had just studied. She relished these questions and encouraged me to keep on asking them.
Within a few weeks, she concluded one such Q&A session with the surprising words: “I hope you keep studying Chinese in college!”
I laughed and said, “You mean, if I go to college.”
When I said this, she gave me a look of such complete incredulity I laughed even harder.
“When you go to college, Deborah. When you go to college.”
Virtually every day after that, she’d tell me something she loved about college. She’d daydream for me about the adventures I’d have as a college student. At first, I smiled and nodded, allowing myself only briefly to enjoy the fantasy with her.
Thanks to Mrs. Stamm’s persistence, what started out as my humoring her slowly transformed to actually seeing college as the mandatory next step following high school.
It was only right and natural that I should go to college! It seemed impossible that I could ever have thought otherwise.
Sure, my mom had been trying to pound the importance of higher education through my iron-plated skull since before I understood what college was, but the words felt empty to me without the substance of clear experience to support them.
My class schedule was too full to allow me to continue studying Chinese for long. Those months that I did impacted me far more profoundly than I could ever have guessed when I first walked into Mrs. Stamm’s classroom. I learned not only a smattering of Chinese, but also about Mrs. Stamm’s youth in China. I learned about some of her struggles as she made her way to the quieter — but by no means dull — life she lived when I was her student.
It’s been more than half my life ago that Mrs. Stamm taught me at least as much about hope and having faith in myself as she did about China and Chinese.
I don’t remember much Chinese anymore, but I’ll never forget the warmth of Mrs. Stamm’s unwavering belief I could and would be whatever I dreamed for myself.
Who was I to look at the truths she told me and call her a liar?
Who believed in you when you didn’t believe in yourself?