On being …a teacher’s hope

By Ingrid Sapona

When I was going through stuff at my mother’s house, I came across my high school yearbooks. I don’t feel particularly nostalgic about high school, so there was no question that they’d be going into the recycle bin. Before I tossed them though, I leafed through them.

Unlike some, high school wasn’t the highlight of my education, much less my life. But, I did enjoy a few activities – like marching band and I was in the orchestra for the school musical my third year (I think that’s when it was). I looked for photos of those activities, but there really weren’t any. 

I was surprised to find some things clubs I was in – like the yearbook – that I don’t remember participating in. I also thought it was interesting that I had completely blocked out the trauma of being subjected to the “Solomon Stare” – the evil eye Mr. Solomon, the concert band director – routinely shot my way. Truth be told: I didn’t remember the Solomon Stare until I was reminded of it reading a comments (jealous) bandmates wrote about it my yearbook the year I quit concert band.

The obvious highlights of any yearbook are the comments written by friends and teachers. There were surprises there too. One thing I’m actually embarrassed to admit is that there were a couple inscriptions written by people – friends? – I don’t remember. That makes me wonder whether there are many folks whose yearbook I signed that don’t remember me either. I’m sure there must be – after all, there were 600 in my graduating class.

It was the comments by teachers that really gave me pause. I was a good student and I have fond memories of many of them. So, I was especially interested in seeing which teachers I asked to sign my yearbook, and what they said. In reading them, I was struck by how ordinary they seem all these years later. I got the sense that each of them probably had a few stock platitudes they wrote year in, year out.

In reflecting on it some 40 years out, I realize that over the course of their careers, they influenced hundreds of students and were probably asked to sign thousands of yearbooks. Indeed, despite the banality of some of the comments, they deserve a lot of credit for making me feel special and worthy of individual attention when they were my teachers.

The thing that struck me the funniest was that one teacher’s wish for me actually came true. It was a wish written in my yearbook by a teacher whose name I didn’t even remember: Mrs. Florence Wagner, my typing teacher. I definitely remember taking typing, and I remember why. The main reason is that it fit in my schedule. You see, most of our courses ran the full-year, but New York State required students to take a half-year health course, so I had to fill in the other semester with something. Typing was not just a sensible choice, it was the one course my mother insisted I take. Her theory was that typing was a skill I could always use as a secretary. (I guess she was worried that my academic career might be short-lived.)

Mrs. Wagner’s wish for me was this: “I hope you get to type ever day of your life”. I’m sure when I first read that I figured that’s just what a typing teacher would say. But, honestly, looking back on it, maybe Mrs. Wagner was more of a visionary than she got credit for. Who knows, maybe she foresaw the role computers and keyboards would have in all our lives. I know, probably not. Good old Mrs. Wagner probably just understood that mastering basic skills always stands you in good stead.

So, though I’ll always wonder what might have happened if she’d have phrased her hopes for me a bit differently – maybe something along the lines of: “I hope your typing skills pay off for you as a famous writer”, I hope Mrs. Wagner lived long enough to realize that her hopes for me – and likely thousands of others – came true.

What about you? What hopes do you think your high school teachers had for you? Did they come to pass?  

© 2017 Ingrid Sapona


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