"Language, as well as the faculty of speech, was the immediate gift of God." ~ Noah Webster

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Hug That Teaches

She was one of those people that you never forget, bringing moments to the day that stay with you for a lifetime.

She was my fourth grade teacher and she had a reputation. To a nine year old, it was a reputation that could be a little frightening. She was known as the strictest teacher in the eight year grade school that I attended. I heard stories about her from the moment I began first grade, it seemed. She was reported to be mean, she was reported to give difficult assignments, and "they" said she expected alot from her students in both academics and behavior. I was shy and introverted! How was I going to get along in Mrs. Hunter's class?

Well, I sat back quietly and tried to go unnoticed; but I watched. I watched her start the day with The Pledge of Allegiance, a prayer, and then a Bible reading. This was 1963, and so that was not so very unusual. But it wasn't until much later I realized this was an act of civil disobedience. Prayer was removed from public schools in June of 1963. Later it made sense as I remembered the day I overheard her say, "I'm going to do it anyway." I saw my first example of civil disobedience, but displayed in a very respectful way. We continued to pray.

Each day I watched as she told us to lay our heads on our desks after lunch, so we might rest and listen as she read to us out of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie books. She stood at the head of the class with a Kleenex in the same hand as the book she was reading, making her way chapter after chapter, book after book throughout the school year. Always in the same manner, she brought those wholesome and beautiful stories from the 1800's to life.

I watched as she snapped at the class clown and I felt a twinge of sympathy for him. I watched when she became disgusted at someone staring out the large window, instead of paying attention to her lesson.

I watched one day, as the principle came to the door, and she stepped briefly out into the hall. When she came back into the room, the distress on her face was very evident. "Class," she said sadly with a break in her voice, "there has been a tragedy in Dallas; our President and the Governor of Texas have been shot." Her compassion and concern was evident.

I continued to watch. On one occasion, a big smile came to her face as she called me to the door at the end of the day. "Jan, there is someone here to pick you up." There in the door way stood my uncle in his U.S. Navy dress blues. I felt special and important that he was there for me and I could see Mrs. Hunter was impressed. I knew the next day I had read her attitude correctly, when she asked me. "Who was that handsome young man that picked you up yesterday?" Boy, that was a different era, wasn't it? That kind of trust certainly wouldn't happen today; allowing a stranger to pick up a child from the classroom. I could not have been more proud to tell her it was my uncle.

One cold, rainy day, my classmates and I bundled up to go outside for recess. On this day, most of us were huddled under the eves on the sidewalk. I was standing with a friend, when I saw her coming. Oh oh; it was her turn for recess duty. She walked up to me and I will never know what in the world possessed her, but she bent down and gave me the biggest hug. I don't remember exactly what she said, but it was something about looking cold and needing to warm up. I was caught quite off guard, but I couldn't have been happier. My teacher hugged me! And not just any teacher, but Mrs. Hunter! It was one of those hugs that you know are real and sincere. The only kind I want to receive. The kind of hug that warms and stays with you and hugs you again and again.

Now, as I look back, the hug she gave me that day was representative of all that she stood for....every lesson I would learn from her, every moral that would stay with me. It was every memory that would envelope me with warmth as I grew with greater understanding of all that she taught me and would cling to for the rest of my life, as I realized who this teacher really was.

She was strict, she was caring with qualities that were rare, and she was an important part of my life.

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