I happened to catch the Mrs. Westlake episode of the Cosby Show the other day and realized two things:
One: all of the Theo-centered episodes were always the funniest
Two: Every school had a Mrs. Westlake
Ours was Mrs. Green.
Mrs. Green’s reputation was so horrifying that her own son (also a student in our school) went by a different last name to avoid having to claim her.
Mrs. Westlake intimidated kids into being better students.
Mrs. Green mostly just wore you down.
That woman had patience like she was being paid for it. But I didn’t figure that out until later.At the time, she annoyed me like she annoyed the other kids. I felt like her class was the least productive class in the world. For an honors class, it seemed like we were way behind where we should have been.
I could never prove it, but I was sure she was teaching us the same thing she was teaching her other classes.
And she was teaching them junior high stuff. It was a rip off, and I complained endlessly.
To her, to other kids, my counselor, my parents. And yet no one seemed to care that this woman was stunting my educational growth.
I remember showing my Dad the reading list.
“Look at this! I read this stuff in the seventh grade!”
My father looked up from his desk with a smirk, “Hey, now, that guarantees you a good grade, right?” I stomped away from his uproarious laughter.
Years after graduation I went with a friend to the school for whatever reason and passed her classroom. Before I knew it I had my head in the doorway. She was surprisingly happy to see me.
“You remember me?”
“Yes, of course I remember you, Ms. (mylastname), you are unforgettable,” and she beckoned me to come all the way into the classroom.
Before I could find a seat in the corner some little chick with glasses rolled her eyes, threw her hands up and loudly complained, “I don’t appreciate this disruption!”
My eyes grew wide and I glanced at Mrs. Green.
She went on. “This is cutting into my class time. I came here to learn.” She said the last word hard like she was throwing a heavy rock.
“It’s me.” I said louder than I meant to.
“Yes it is,” Mrs. Green smiled.
“I wasn’t trying to be… obnoxious. I just thought… I felt like…”
“I know, dear, I know” and Mrs. Green stretcher her arms out to me for a hug and I gave her a warm hug and hoped that she felt my apology.
“Ugh! You huggin’ that lady?” Ms. Missy was mortified that anyone would embrace Mrs. Green.
I ignored her and apologized again. “I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry.”
Mrs. Green just laughed, “I know, dear, I’ve always known.”
I threw Ms. Missy a dirty look on the way out but thought better than to tell her what I was thinking.
I could have told her that her thinking was faulty, that learning is all day every day, lessons are where you find them, and you can gain the most where you’re sure you’re wasting your time.
But then I remembered that a woman once told me that when you are young everyone gives you the best advice but you are too stubborn or stupid to know it.
Sometimes teachers teach what’s in the book and sometimes they teach something more than that.
It’s up to us as students to recognize the value.
But that’s the thing about learning, it kind of sneaks up on you sometimes.
I can’t seem to find the first part of this episode, but you can still get the goods from these two clips.