"A loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge."
It was my first year of teaching and I had a lot to learn. I was a new teacher in a small -very small- rural school. My Junior class consisted of a sea of flannel shirts and work boots; these students went from English class with me to the local vocational school where they studied programs like Operating Large Machinery. Only a naive first year teacher fresh out of a Nancy Atwell dream would have tried to teach them Nathanial Hawthorn. As I said, I had a lot to learn.
But perhaps the most memorable lesson came at the hands of a mountain of an adolescent who was known to his peers as "Moose." He was a gentle soul with a spelling disability and enormous hands that clutched the pen too tight. This was before computers were a standard in the classroom, before spell check and auto correct. Moose- or Gerald, as I called him- struggled with his writing and often became disruptive when asked to write. This is what landed him in detention, actually. I was concerned he would harbor resentment for me and was in my room working when he was released at 5:00 pm.
I felt his presence before I heard or saw him. There he stood, fillin my doorway with his mooseness. For a second, I thought it might be a scene, but he looked almost sheepish and I asked him to come in. He had a favor to ask me. He asked if I would proofread something for him.
I assumed he wanted me to help him with some school work, either for my course or another. But instead, he handed me a folded loose leaf of paper on which his awkward handwriting was scrawled. It was a love letter.
It was for a girl in a younger grade; I had seen her in the hall though she was not one of my students. And so, I started on the most important editing task of the day as he stood nervously near my desk. He wanted it to be right, he told me, because he didn't want her to know he was stupid. And what does an English teacher do with that?
I guess you do what I did. You read the words of a lovesick boy and assure him they are perfect. Misspelled, but perfect. You correct the misspellings and sit at your desk, pretending you have more work to do, as he carefully copies the words onto a fresh sheet of paper, knowing you haven't made a difference in his abilty to spell, but hoping you made a difference in a much more important way
“…I retreat into my fictional world where everything makes sense—but even there I can’t even control what people do…”