It took me many years to recognize the difference between not being a smart person and not being a well-educated person. Deep down, I felt insecure about my intelligence. I felt like I was a good imposter sounding knowledgable when keeping up with conversations socially. When I helped my kids with their math homework, my basic understanding of mathematical concepts was limited. In an improv class I took recently, we were asked to improvise a few important American historical events. I got the Louisiana Purchase, and the Alamo, and didn't really remember what either were. I know at some point I memorized the periodic table, but I can't remember more than a handful now. Over time, through watching my own children's experiences at school, I realized what went wrong for me: I had a more than a couple of teachers that did nothing to build my confidence.
I was in the resource room for the latter years of elementary school, and then all the way through high school. Today when a child has special needs at school, they are treated kindly and given support. When I went to school, going to the resource room was almost like all the kids in your class pointing at you and calling you stupid. Very few kids went, and everyone knew who you were if you did go. I entered public elementary school at a disadvantage. I had started in a private day school learning Hebrew and English. I could not read or write english as well as Hebrew and when my parents saw me struggling, they moved me to public school. I had a great teacher for one year, and then it went south.
For third grade I had a mean, old teacher. She yelled, she was strict and she was anything but gentle. Mrs. Hawkins was her name, and I went to school afraid of her. One day, she did a macrame project with us. She provided the rope and instructed everyone how to tie the knots into a planter. No matter how many times I tried to follow her instructions, my ropes didn't tie in the way I wanted them too. Discouraged and frustrated, I asked her for help. Instead of patiently trying to break it down for me, she got annoyed and said that maybe I wasn't smart enough for third grade. She even said that maybe I belonged in the LD (learning disabled) classes. I remember walking away from her desk crying and giving up on my macrame planter. When a teacher tells a young child that they aren't bright, that child will believe them. For many years, it will take that child a long time to believe in themselves again. It took me a long time to believe that I was smart. Fortunately, when a teacher builds their students up, the children will learn to believe in themselves as well.
Later when I had a few wonderful teachers, I became especially grateful for the few that were patient and kind. I went on to get my college degree in theatre and education. I never became a classroom teacher, but taught many classes with the NY Board of Ed, LAUSD as well as in a bunch of private schools. I watched and learned that the most important thing a teacher could do was to find something to love about each child. It is not easy, but it really does beat the alternative. I never made a macrame planter to bring home. From time to time, when I see anything made out of macrame, I would remember giving up on it.
All of this time at home now has made me want to try again. I was patient and kind with myself and after a few tries I did it. Take that, Mrs. Hawkins!
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