High School Days: Who Really Made a Difference?
It is rare that I visit the Ghost of High School Past. Those days are long behind me. Back when Classmates.com was the new big thing I signed up, and at one point heard from a couple of old boyfriends who only wanted to say they were happy and hoped I was the same. I was, and am, and it was lovely to hear from them and learn that they did well. But other than that, no, there’s been no contact and no desire to revisit the past.
What struck me the most as I scrolled through the names was how few I recognized. I’ll never forget those I was closest to, of course, and there were a few standouts—the class clowns, the mean girls, the jocks. Those tags are stereotypes for a reason, y’all. And in case you’re wondering, I was not one of the cool kids. Not even close. For the first two years of high school I suffered from horrible acne (yep, I was that girl, the one you saw in the library and felt sorry for . . . sniff). My mom finally realized that cutting back on potato chips and Coca-Cola wasn’t going to clear my complexion and took me to a dermatologist who made her feel awful by explaining that acne is a skin disease. Tetracycline cleared my skin, and one of the girls who was supposed to be my friend said, “Oh, my god. You might actually be competition now.” *sigh* Is it any wonder I have no hankering to go back?
You know who I do remember? The teachers. The good, the bad, and the comic relief. At the time I sat in their classrooms I had no clue of the impact those people would have on my life. I took them and their hard work for granted because I didn’t know any better, but looking back I’m grateful for their dedication and passion. Oh, not all of them—some were waiting around for retirement, some already had one foot out the door. But kids are discerning and know the difference between teachers who show up to take roll call and the ones who are truly present.
With the advent of Facebook, I tracked down a few of my teachers. (Okay, fine, I admit it. I did some Facebook stalking. Man, I hate this Naked Truth thing sometimes.) The biggest surprise is that they aren’t that much older than I am. Back in the day I thought they were ancient. Funny how a few decades can change one’s perspective. I sent a friend request to only one, knowing that she had hundreds of students before me and probably thousands after I graduated. She was kind enough to friend me, though I’m certain the dear woman has not the first idea who I am. I was just one more face in the crowd. But I will never forget her.
Joan Mountford was an English teacher extraordinaire. She extracted the best from her students because that was her expectation. If it ever occurred to her that we might offer less, she never let on.
Mrs. Mountford is the reason I believed I could write. Her encouragement stayed with me long after I left her classroom and traded my pen and paper for diaper bags and T-ball games. And after my kids grew and life shifted again, and the need to write devoured me like a hungry shark, it was Mrs. Mountford’s words that propelled me forward, and not even the words so much as the substance. You see, she never spoke of my writing as a dream to be met, as though one day at some nebulous time in the future I might become a writer. No, never. In all of her critiques of my work she spoke as if I was a writer already. That’s heady stuff for a 17-year-old.
I believe she offered that same level of respect and consideration to all of her students. Mrs. Mountford never gave throwaway grades. She read the work and offered insightful and detailed critiques that taught us how to improve and grow. I’ll be indebted to her forever because she treated my early attempts as if they had value. Because she believed it, I believed it, too.
Mrs. Mountford also gets the credit for my adherence to deadlines. She rarely gave out an A+, but in one instance she was so impressed with a particular book report I’d written (“Trinity” by Leon Uris) that she read it aloud in class. I beamed under her approval—until I saw that the A+ was downgraded to a B+ because I handed it in a day late. It was a full letter grade deduction, no exceptions. I’ve never forgotten my disappointment over losing that A+. It hurt at the time, but 36 (gak!) years later it is a lesson that continues to hold me in good stead. Deadlines matter, Buttercup! Never doubt it.
Mrs. Mountford is enjoying retirement now. She touched and impacted thousands. She was generous with her time and knowledge, encouraging with her words, and focused with her discipline.
There is also this, perhaps the most important lesson of all, which she taught by example:
Thanks, Mrs. Mountford. For everything.
Please put yourself in the Buff and share a snippet or two about your high school days. Were you class clown? Shy girl? What’s your favorite memory of high school, or your worst? Do you have a teacher or other person who made a difference in your life? What lessons did you learn that impacted your views of yourself? Your work? If you’re a teacher, what things do you wish you could impart to every student? What do you think are the most important things a student can learn from a teacher? As a teacher, what do you learn from your students?
Thanks for being here. Have a wonderful Wednesday, and I’ll see you next week for more of the Naked Truth.