I remember the first time I became aware of her. I was sent to her classroom with a note from another teacher. I’d stepped in just as she was quieting down her students after some sort of disruption, and she turned her head as I opened the door with her big, almost accusatory eyes piercing through my timid little soul.
I handed her the note and her demeanor changed. “Oh. Okay. Thank you.”
The following year, she I was assigned to her sixth grade class.
I’ll admit, I was scared. I remember talking to my friend about her. Until then, all our teachers had been ….
What’s the word I’m looking for?
Sweet? Passive? I don’t know. They all just seemed like they liked us.
Not her. She could quiet a room full of schoolchildren with a stern look. She was there to teach, not to babysit us.
And teach us she did. After a few weeks, I started to realize that Miss Hardy wasn’t really all that scary. She didn’t have to like us. She respected us. She was an excellent teacher. It was in that class that I first learned there was such a thing as Black History Month.
Or maybe, it was in that class that I first paid attention to it.
Because Miss Hardy was black.
I remember thinking it was strange – that all of Black History could be taught in one month. It didn’t make sense to me. Why wouldn’t we learn about historical Black figures throughout the year? I also pondered why it had to be the *shortest* month that was picked for this focused instruction.
That’s a question a naive child asks herself – the naive child who had learned about the United States Constitution and believed everything she’d heard about an America that believed in Civil Rights, denounced cruel and unusual punishment, and valued truth, liberty, and justice for all.
Oh, sweet, dear young me.
Most of my memories of actually learning can be traced back to the year I spent in Miss Hardy’s 6th grade class. I remember details from the lessons she taught me more clearly than any other in my entire educational history, all the way into college. I still have all 51 prepositions memorized in alphabetical order. I still use many of our weekly vocabulary words in every day sentences. I first became fascinated with the story of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii in her class. I looked at pictures of the ruins in Ancient Rome – these relics of ancient history and learned about the importance of innovation with the aqueducts. We drew the ocean currents in blue crayon on a huge world map across the back wall.
She was the teacher that interrupted our scheduled lesson for the day to pass around the front page of the newspaper the year that the Berlin Wall came down. She explained its significance to us.
But there was much more she taught me that I didn’t even realize I had carried with me all this time. She taught me not to judge people based on their appearance or their first impression. She taught me that to be respected was often significantly more important than to be liked. She taught me about the America that I could be proud of despite its questionable history.
I miss that America, sometimes.
Today is the first day of Black History Month for 2017. It makes plenty of sense to me now.