*Big thanks to my friend Henry Petty for sharing his gratitude for his sixth grade teacher with us–and thanks to all educators who make a difference in the lives of students today. Stay tuned for other “back to school” posts.*
I can count on one hand the number of teachers who really inspired me and left an impact, and this spans from high school through college. Let me tell you about Mrs. Margaret Elumbaugh.
She was Mrs. Beard when school started. I can remember she had this poster up of a drawing of somebody wearing a beard, and that was her. She was the kindest person to me at a time when I was so very vulnerable. I was wearing tattered clothes in a scholastic melting pot of characters: the rich kids mixed with 2 oz. of po-po kids (poor). She and Mrs. Bently were the ultimate tag team of teachers. They genuinely cared about their students, and you could tell.
I can remember being a very unpopular kid in school; I never got my haircut because my grandma cut it for me, and it hurt really bad. And she cut it holding a bowl over my head, hence the “bowl cut.” People spat on me, called me “wet back” because the naïve students thought I was Hispanic (I’m Filipino, dummy), and made fun of me for my hand-me-down-from-a-yardsale clothes. My life was a nightmare. And that was during recess.
But she treated me just like the other students. She didn’t care; she had love in her heart. She would have this giant bag of Jolly Ranchers to give the good kids for doing..well.. good :). I always enjoyed Mondays because she recounted the weekend excursion to Little Rock which she and “Bubby,” her husband at the time, would take. Or she would tell us about some movie they went out to see. I was too poor to see a movie, much less make the scary trip all the way to Little Rock from Batesville, so this was like storytime and show-and-tell for me. I now live five minutes away from the very mall she talked about going to, and when I’m walking around, she comes to mind.
She inspired me to do more with my life. She convinced me that I was special just like any other kid, that I was a good-hearted person with lots to give to the world. When I tried to be someone I wasn’t, she called me out on it. I started walking down the hallway with a “limp” because I saw somebody do it on Arsenio Hall, and she looked at me and said,”Don’t do that.”
I was arguably the poorest kid in her class, very shy, and as unpopular as orange juice after brushing your teeth. I was bullied often, made fun of on a daily basis either for my clothes or darker skin. On the day of our Christmas presentation, I completely forgot my line and was feeling crummy about it. I got back to my desk and found a giant artbook with color pencils and magic markers. She had gotten those for me as a gift because she always saw me drawing. She nurtured that gift which eventually led to my love of entertaining and doing YouTube videos. Thank you, Mrs. Elumbaugh. I never forgot.