I was a particularly awkward 10 year-old, with thick glasses and thin skin. A couple of the boys in my class knew just how to torment me, and I often retreated to the seat in the back of the class, near the teacher’s desk, to eat my lunch in peace.
Mrs. Ashley saw everything that happened in that classroom, and was a shrewd judge of character. She casually gave me advice without my knowing it: good places to have a birthday party (Chuck E. Cheese’s); better reactions to teasing (walk away); and the best advice of all, to leave school.
The last gem was actually written in a student evaluation for my parents, in which she recommended I attend a school that would better “nuture my creativity,” someplace with a greater focus on the arts than the conservative college-prep school I attended. My parents took this advice to heart, and after 6th grade we moved to the next county, and a new school system.
I discovered the letter a few years ago as I helped my parents sort through some boxes. Reading her neat cursive, I was transported back to elementary school. I remembered that feeling of being a fish out of water, and the relief I felt under Mrs. Ashley’s cool gaze.
It is a true gift to be seen and valued. Growing up, that’s what we all want, isn’t it? I am so grateful for Mrs. Ashley’s ability to see through the messy layers to the person underneath. And as an educator now, I try to do the same, with a nod to the woman who showed me the way.