Most of the people in my hall of fame are older men that took time to mentor me. Mrs. Mulvany is the exception to the rule. Obviously. So on with the story.
I hated English. From seventh through tenth grade English class was synonymous with cleaning toilets. Don’t get me wrong, I loved stories, loved writing, but something always seemed to ruin if for me: teachers. All the way back in fourth grade I was a slow reader and couldn’t keep up when we read My Side of the Mountain. The same was true in later grades until I finally got glasses. It’s amazing how much sight can impact reading. Back to seventh grade. My teacher, I’ll call her Ms. Fruity (funny pun if you knew her real name), never really explained things and gave me funny looks when I asked questions. In that class, a girl picked on me. I realize now that she was just a typical mean-girl but I couldn’t quite analyze the situation back then. I grew tired of her antics so one day when she reached to get something from the basket underneath her desk a stomped down so hard on her fingers that she cried. I pushed with all my might hoping to cause her physical pain. My ears turned red. I was the one that got in trouble. The teacher didn’t even want to hear my story of oppression. So I associated English class with mean girls and feminist teachers. (As a side note, I’ve learned to react to mean girls differently, so please don’t worry)
On to eighth and ninth grade. I had the same teacher two years in a row and it is truly amazing that I didn’t get suspended. I’ll call her Mrs. Screwdriver. She was the wife of a lawyer and had the nicest car in the parking lot. However much money she may have had, it didn’t equate to being money in the classroom. In my list of worst school experiences ever, Mrs. Screwdriver ranks #2. Way to go. We had grammar lessons, which is really uncommon in Jefferson County. I grew up in an age where the county thought it was more important to get thoughts down on paper instead of using grammatical rules. Yeah that worked well…until college came around and professors graded on grammar. But I digress. I communicated to Mrs. Screwdriver that I didn’t understand the activities. She told me to read the book. It had the answers. No it didn’t. Yes it did so be quiet and get to work. If there was ever a teacher to give the middle finger to…
During the short story unit, I had this idea for a story within a story, where good fights evil but it was all a metaphor for somebody making a decision. The story was really happening in somebody’s mind but it played out as if it were real. Mrs. Screwdriver looked at me and said that my idea made no sense and it would be foolish to pursue it because nobody would understand it. I think she was a simpleton and didn’t get it. So not only were English teachers feminists, but they couldn’t see past their own snootyness and offer an English heathen like me even a few crumbs of hope.
I had Mrs. B. in tenth grade. She took off points for no reason and was always short tempered with me. I thought the novels we read were lame and the assignments were useless for real life. The irony here is that I now teach one of those novels and actually like it. And real life? Yeah, English is real life for me.
By the time I reached my Junior year in high school, I hated English. My love of stories and poetry dwindled because I had heard over and over and over that my ideas didn’t make sense, that when I didn’t understand something I was either goofing off or not trying hard enough. Obviously, it all changed in eleventh grade.
I had a schedule change within the first week of school and was transfered from one teacher to another. I walked into Mrs. Mulvany’s class (6th period) with my pass and explained that I was in her class. Wearing my hat backwords with a punk rock shirt and torn vans probably didn’t provide her with the best first impression. She demanded to know why I hadn’t come in during access to get my make up work.
“I don’t know.” Typical. Way to go Jacobson. Maybe you shouldn’t have changed your schedule. She’s just like all the rest.
I worked my tail off to get caught up on the missed assignments. She complemented me on my hard work. On our first writing assignment, she told me she liked my ideas. Second semester, she told me I should pursue writing. For the first time in English, somebody took the time to explain things to me, to encourage me, to tell me to keep trying. I took yearbook my senior year (it was my English class…way to set the bar high Jeffco) just so I could have her as a teacher again. Mrs. Mulvany left teaching shortly after I graduated and became an administrator. She’s since retired.
I think the fact that I’m an English teacher has a lot to do with Mrs. Mulvany. I see so many kids that are frustrated with grammar, so many kids like me who just want to be noticed and encouraged. I know I’m not perfect and I’ve most likely alienated many students like teachers often do. I feel badly about that but all I can do is keep trying. Thanks, Mrs. Mulvany.
The story does end somewhat ironically. Last year I walked down the hall to talk to a fellow teacher about something. She had a sub. Yup, Mrs. Screwdriver was walking through the classroom reading sub plans. I broke into hives and my hairline receded another 3 centimeters. I ran away as fast as I could. My vindictive side was just hoping she would walk into my room with a grammar book in hand, asking for help with the day’s lesson.