You know how it was in high school. There always seemed to be a teacher you wanted to avoid if at all possible. That’s the way it was for me (and a lot of us) for English class for my upcoming junior year at Odessa High. Stay clear of Miss Manitzas!
The word was: she’s tough, very strict, by the book, runs a taut ship and gives LOTS of homework. So when I found out I got the new teacher in town from Phillips, Texas, a "Miss Boyd," I was elated. Whew! Well, my elation was short-lived. Not only was Miss Boyd an older reincarnation of Miss Manitzas, but if one considers dourness, authoritarianism, and extreme pickiness as assets, then that’s what you got in Miss Boyd.
What a downer! She was especially particular in grammar, punctuation, and diction, and rarely, if ever gave A’s. I once got "docked" 10 points for using the ampersand ("&") in an essay --- and the thing is, I had gotten that handy little abbreviation from my mother, a substitute school teacher in her own right. When I questioned Miss Boyd about why she marked me down, she said that in class Monday she had discussed avoiding just such abbreviations in schoolwork.
I told her I had an excused absence and was not in class Monday. She informed me "Either way, Mr. Norman, it’s your responsibility to find out the lessons for a class you miss. You still get a C." I was not a happy writer. I asked my friend and classmate Jesse if he’d ever gotten an "A" in Miss Boyd’s class. "Not yet." I mean, if Jesse doesn’t get an "A", something’s wrong.
Our future class valedictorian and later honors graduate from Rice University, Jesse was the only guy I’ve ever known personally whom I’d consider a genius. Take, for example, the school district’s annual requirement for English classes grades 9-12 to memorize a minimum of 100 lines of poetry and recite them in class. This would usually be done as several short-to-medium length poems over the course of a semester.
Oh no, not Jesse. Two years earlier as a ninth grader, he recited the entire 18 stanzas of Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Raven" at one standing. Not me. I fulfilled my dreaded English requirement memorization by reciting several short poems of insignificance every few weeks. I promptly (and may I say "proudly") forgot the poems the day I said them.
I "ain’t" no dummy. I asked Miss Boyd why none of us ever got "A’s." She replied "Mr. Norman, when you or anyone else in class writes something comparable to Robert Frost or Emily Dickson, you’ll get your ‘A.’" I thought, my goodness, Miss Boyd , we’re only 16 years old. What gives?
Not her. So... one day she gave the class an assignment: "Write out a 2-3 person ‘dialogue’ in script form, of an incident/event at school, home or wherever, no less than 400 words. It’s due on Friday." I’m thinking "I don’t want to do this. I have no idea what to write." Then... then... the thought came to me --- why not write out a dialogue of what it was like trying to carry on a conversation with Miss Boyd about grades, etc.
You know, about how nobody gets an "A" in her class? I could change the names up a bit. She would be "Miss Bod." I was "Carl." And Jesse became "Jessica." So as I’m writing this out, I’m thinking, "Am I really doing this?" Two and a half pages later, I had it. I read my dialogue over and over. This is definitely the way it goes in my conversations with Miss Boyd.
I told no one (including my parents) of my idea for the assignment. So I turned it in Friday as scheduled. You know "buyer’s remorse?" Well, I had "writer’s remorse" almost immediately ... and for the whole weekend. What have I done? I don’t feel so well.
So Monday, man, did I dread going to English class!? FDR once famously said "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Well, that’s exactly what I had --- "fear itself!" When class commenced, Miss Boyd slowly walked around the room handing out the graded papers face down on each students’ desks. Of course, I WOULD be last. I just knew she was doing this to make me squirm in my seat that much longer.
She paused extra long at my desk, for effect I guess, as she placed the paper face down. I glanced up at her hovering over me, to see an expression I’d never seen from her before. I didn’t know if it was a "smirk" or a "quirky smile." I’m thinking this is NOT good. So I turned my paper over and what did I see? A- ... an A- !! She had written on top of the paper in red ink: "Sometimes it helps to see yourself as others see you. Keep up the good work, Charlie."
As Miss Boyd walked away, she said to me, "I admire the courage it took to do what you did." I think I wet my pants. Things over the next few weeks began to change for the good. Miss Boyd seemed to ease up a bit, and every once in a while we students might even catch a glimpse of a smile on her face.
Jesse got his "A’s." And I actually pulled an "A-" for the semester. Hard to believe how things changed. As strange as it seemed, I actually grew to like the woman a bit, for she had taught me well. So well in fact, that a couple years later when I was in summer school at Odessa College, I aced my 2 college English classes with a couple "A’s" --- taught by none other than former OHS high school teacher and now college professor: Miss Manitzas. I liked her too!
Charlie Norman has lived in Somervell County since 1994. He and his wife have two adult children, who graduated from Glen Rose schools. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.