My high school’s open house, 2010, my freshman year art teacher says to a crowded room full of parents, “I will know your children better than they know themselves.”
For a class full of high school students uncertain about just about everything, being wiser and more knowledgeable is not difficult. But seeing people clearly instead of through any number of available lenses is difficult. Every teacher insists that they will try to make the classroom a personal experience, that each students needs will be considered and will either be pushed or assisted. Rarely is this achieved.
The public school system is packed. Classes are overcrowded, students share desks and the pencil jars in the corner are always empty. Teacher’s lack funding for extra projects and so the textbooks are spread across desks once again, with glazed eyes and twiddling thumbs.
For these reasons, my freshman art teacher, Stan, hated the public school system. He got into teacher to infiltrate the system: the best way to change anything is from the inside. He may not have fixed the system, but change starts by changing individuals, and along with everyone else that passed through his watercolor dampened classroom, he changed me.
I spent hours per week in his room after school let out. Sometimes I drew, painted, sometimes he showed me a new way of making art that he had invented. Sometimes we just talked. We are incredibly different. He dons ties on Sunday morning – I’m probably still asleep. He isn’t pressured by wanting to be liked – he just wants to teach. He says “bless your heart,” and sports a gentle southern accent – I have worked tirelessly to keep the twang from my voice.
But he lived up to his bold open house claim: he learned me. He figured me out faster than I thought possible, and has continued to know me better than I know myself. I saw him last night at First Friday, where all the galleries are open late and serve refreshments (sweet tea and pecan pie last night!). I was there with my parents, and he had never met my father. When my Dad walked up, Stan grabbed his hand and shook it for a long time, looked straight at him and said, “You have raised one of the most amazing human beings I have ever met.” Everyone in my life is incredibly supportive and kind, but hearing that from someone who is 50-something years young and has passed thousands of students through his classroom felt bigger.
Aside from the supportive words that I needed to hear, he added to the message sent by Spiritual Rez the other night to not be afraid. He recently retired, and when I asked how he was doing, he looked at me with wide eyes and said, “There is no stress in my life.” I said that he deserved that, and made a comment about how I wish that were true in my life, too. He looked at me very seriously, “Whatever you’re stressed about, it’s just not that big of a deal. It’s not. I promise.”
And that was it. He asked me about school, friends, plans. He told me I was wise to switch out of engineering – everyone is slowly admitting to me that they didn’t believe it was a good fit. Hearing it from him was the final thing I needed.
This morning when I woke up, I started to stress about my job as an editor for as student newspaper. About papers waiting for me at the end of a plane ride tomorrow, about next semester of classes, about advising appointments and scholarship meetings. Deep breath.
I am working on perfecting the motto built from this spring break. Continuing to combine wise words, don’t be afraid. It’s just not that big of a deal.