It still happens every now and then. I’ll run into someone from my distant past — elementary school or middle school, usually — and they always ask the same question.
“How’s your mother?” they’ll say. “You know, she was my favorite teacher.”
Mom probably never thought of herself as anybody’s favorite teacher. Actually, she went out of her way to give herself a title that seemed to set itself in diametric opposition to the title of “favorite” anything.
“You have a bad lot in life,” she told me on multiple occasions. “Your mother is Meanest Woman in America.”
For most of my childhood, Mom carried that title around like a heavyweight championship belt. Anytime one of us would complain about something, that was always the end.
“Clearly your mother is the Meanest Woman in America,” she’d say.
She probably isn’t the Meanest Woman in America. The Meanest Woman in America is probably Hillary Clinton, or that fat lady that screams at children on “Dance Moms.” But I hadn’t heard of either of them when I was little, so I trusted Mom’s assertion.
Even so, one needs a sharp disposition to teach in middle school, where Mom spent most of her life. I learned a funny thing about middle school: it’s a place where very few people want to be. The students tend to either miss elementary school, or they’re anxious to get to high school (you know, where the adults are).
And yet Mom stayed in middle school, for the better part of 30 years, teaching Social Studies, mostly, before taking a role as a curriculum coordinator when we moved to Opelika.
Apparently the disposition stuck. At one point I admitted to one of her coworkers that I was unclear what my mom did on a daily basis.
“She tells the rest of what we’re supposed to be doing,” the teacher said.
Whatever it is she does, it’s apparently worked. Not so long ago I was visiting with one of her former coworkers, who now is part of a teacher training program at a university. Mom’s retirement — tomorrow is her last day — inevitably came up.
“I’m afraid that school won’t know what to do without her there,” he told me. “I designed my plan for running this (collegiate) department based on the plan she runs at the middle school.”
Whether in a classroom or across the hall, Mother never stopped teaching. That’s probably why she’s the favorite teacher of those folks I still see from time to time.
I know she’s certainly my favorite.