“Shut up over there.” This was a frequent command that bellowed from a gravelly voice that always seemed coated with phlegm. Immediately, cackling boys and girls hushed and wondered how the finger of Mrs. Tate, my cocked-eyed 60-something 6th grade teacher standing at the chalkboard, always landed exactly on the culprit. We never thought she could see us so most took advantage of her crooked eye. She was just too smart for us, would catch the motor mouths every time and remind the slow ones they still had work to do.
“You dumber than dirt, sister (brother). You dumber than dirt,” she would say when a student couldn’t answer what she thought was an easy question. And don’t try to tell her why you didn’t know the answer, have your homework or complete your class work. She’d tell you about excuses.
“Excuses! Excuses only earn you one grade, and that’s the letter excuse begins with.”
Mrs. Tate was tough and quite unconventional in her motivation, but somehow her ways inspired me. Her class would be the only time I received straight A’s even though she ostracized me to
“motivate” others. She configured the classroom with two sets of student desks facing each other from opposite sides of the room. She placed me at a teacher desk in the middle of the other desks, on display for all to see. I was in a reading group by myself. The other students had assignments while Mrs. Tate worked with me one-on-one. And she would always use me as the example of what the other students should strive to be. Somehow, I had friends, and I thank God for them, Elmira Bell and Yolanda Gibson, chief among them who would defend me and keep the haters off my back. They made my girl in a bubble experience bearable.
Though I can’t remember anything kind Mrs. Tate ever said, she taught me how to persevere in the face of adversity. I didn’t want her calling me names or the students getting the satisfaction of me doing less than my best so I pushed myself to never give up. I’ve always been determined, but Mrs. Tate tested my ability to be steadfast. Even still, I am ever grateful for her twisted love. For this, Mrs. Tate is one of my sheroes.
Copyright 2010 by Rhonda J. Smith