Today and every day I am thankful for my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Walliser.
She was a 6’2″ Norwegian lady who wore the title of “The Meanest, Strictest, Nastiest Teacher On Campus” like it was a damn badge of honor.
I remember finding out I was going to be in her class and crying.
Up to that point, I was a rather feral child. Every doctor I had ever had recommended extreme medication for my “overwhelmingly excitable nature.” My parents refused, preferring I learn to “harness my energy” by natural means but that usually manifested in me setting things on fire and spending copious amounts of time in the principal’s office. So, naturally, when I found out I was going to be in the insidious confines of Mrs. Walliser’s care, I cried. A lot.
But Mrs. Walliser surprised me. The second day of class she took me aside and said, “I don’t need you to stay still. I just need you to focus. Some people will confuse you and trick you into thinking those are the same thing. They’re not. Just. Focus. Can you do that?”
And I could. She taught me how to dispel my energetic tendencies in the form of creative doodles while she spoke. I learned to quietly tap out rhythms with my fingers on my jeans while learning algebra and memorizing speeches by past presidents. She was the first teacher to introduce me to the idea that I didn’t have to learn like a still faced- mannequin who acquiesced to the authority of the room unquestionably. I could participate. I could actively engage. I could move.
And, regardless of how amazing or terrible (in my case, usually terrible) the day went, she ended each day standing by the door offering hugs, handshakes, or high fives.
Did you have a hard day and pull 6 tags in the first five minutes of class? You ended the day with a hug.
Did you fail that super important test? You still get that A+ of a hug.
Did you stab your desk mate with a pencil for trying to jack your fruit snacks? You got a referral to the principal’s office. But, when you came back, you also got a hug.
Some of the most important lessons I ever learned came from that classroom in the form of a take- no- prisoners- Norwegian giant. She single handedly taught me that I was worthy of being taught.
I wasn’t a lost cause.
I wasn’t a problem child.
I didn’t have to be still.
I just had to focus.
And even when I failed, even when the noise and stimuli of the world won and I became its flailing, spastic victim, even then; I still got a hug.