At the end of my 3rd grade school year, my teacher presented me, in front of the class, with a purple t-shirt that read ‘I Survived Mrs. Willis’. She had a shirt for herself that read ‘I Survived Kallie Baker’.
I was an 8-year-old girl, not a disease or a natural disaster.
I remember the teachers who ‘survived’ me, who always seemed put out by my energy and restlessness and were disinclined to offer me something I could be proud of. I remember the ones who pretended not to see my raised hand, who seized opportunities to shuttle me off, who were certain I needed to be diagnosed. Fortunately for them and their profession, I also remember the teachers who championed me- who saw someone sharp and insecure and found creative ways of channeling me. They gave me responsibilities, told my peers I was talented, invited me in.
I know I wasn’t easy. I wasn’t pigeonholeable and my discipline never matched up with my potential. I was antsy and lazy, curious and hesitant. I didn’t write in a neat, girlish cursive, and I leapt back and forth between desperately wanting the standard, approved friends and experiences and wanting to just be me when those friends and experiences proved generic and trivial. I had an older sibling who took up a lot of space, but I wasn’t him- I was just similar. Some teachers got all that and some refused to.
Here’s to the ones who got it- who saw a fish and did not ask it fly, who told me I could write, or just showed me I was more than something to be survived. You have a difficult job, you’re important to this world, and I’m thankful for you.