I’ve been meaning to write this for a while but time, as it tends to do, can jump on you quickly. However, I didn’t want to let the moment pass completely. Unfortunately, this is another blog about loss but I don’t want it to focus on the hurt of the loss but rather the meaning of who it represents.
Found out last month that my 2nd grade teacher, Miss Perrich, had passed away at the age of 88. A nice long life filled with, I’m quite certain, having a positive effect on others. I had a whole array of teachers over the course of my now long since past school years, but no one had more of an effect on me than Miss Perrich. Let me paint the picture of that time in my life and tell you why.
Our first grade teacher, was quite simply, a overbearing taskmaster. I believe she was runner-up to getting the part of the Drill Instructor in Full Metal Jacket, so instead, when she lost the part, became our first grade teacher. Ok..slight exaggeration but THIS isnt. She wouldn’t let you go to the bathroom if you called it “bathroom” You had to ask to “go to the lavatory” or she wouldn’t let you go. Read that again. SHE WOULDN’T LET YOU GO TO THE BATHROOM IF YOU DIDN’T CALL IT “THE LAVATORY” We were f**king 7 years old.
So coming out of First Grade…needless to say I had the nerves of a wilting flower but due to this training, the bladder control of a dehydrated god wearing a steel diaper. (To this day though, the word “lavatory” or even “laboratory” cause major problems. I didn’t have one science class where I didn’t wet my pants. But I digress)
And then came 2nd Grade and Miss Perrich. The first grade teacher we should have had. Hell…the teacher I wish EVERYONE could have had. She was sweet and fragile…a little hippie-ish but a calming rain after walking through a way too premature fire. She had an unorthodox lesson plan. Jeez…I don’t even know if she HAD a lesson plan. I don’t remember really. What I do remember is fun, and a now awakened love of going to school. If this was unorthodox, then it was to be my path. I loved it. We would go to the back of the room and read Peter Rabbit and Clifford. She LOVED Peter Rabbit. We learned Spanish before we really even had tackled the English language. Our homework assignments were primarily nature based. Yet nature based in the most paradoxical way. Ill put it like this. Its where I learned about Monarch Butterflies. We would catch them but made sure to let them go. Peaceful, right? She was…except the woman was ALSO obsessed with Praying Mantises, so after we let the monarchs go..we would search for any other insect we could find, throw it in our class pet Praying Mantises cage, and watch it stalk and eat its prey between its claws. How could a woman who was so sweet, promote such a cool and savage part of nature? It was a dichotomy that made my time there so well rounded, so great, and imprinted her forever in my fondest memories, even if i was too young at the time to realize it.
I once heard that our parents maybe felt she was TOO off lesson plan, that there was not enough “straight” learning. In this era of Common Core bullshit, it makes you question what does that even mean? At that age especially, shouldn’t it be about creative development instead of just X’s and O’s? Would her impact have been as dynamic for me if she went by the book? I sincerely doubt it.
Anyway…so much of this year has been tinged with loss. It’s a part of getting older, I guess. However, her loss sparked me to write this cause its important that we highlight all the teachers in our lives that shaped us into who we are, not just when they pass but in the now. Its easily the most underappreciated profession. Besides our parents, having a mentor or mentors that you really click with can make all the difference, especially at young developing ages when it seems that crossroads await you at several moments. Yours could have been in elementary school, high school, college or even where you work. Whenever it occurs, the benefits are mutual, I believe. My sister is a professor and her favorite moments are when current and past students come up to her and/or write her about the effect they had on their lives, whether for just that moment in time or a lasting effect that teachers like Miss Perrich had for me. That’s special.
What a gift and what a legacy to leave for Miss Perrich and the countless teachers out there…the GOOD ones…the GREAT ones…the ones that REALLY care. It doesn’t even have to be just being good at teaching you the material itself but instilling that sense of accomplishment or wonder or caring that shapes our minds…the FULL mind. Its THAT which is what makes us who we’ve become, more then any test, math problem or long forgotten answer we wrote on the board.
RIP Miss Perrich and thanks so MUCH for being one of the catalysts of my life and journey that I will always value greatly. To all the other teachers, enjoy your summers off. You deserve it, you lucky bastards :)