Saturday, August 4, 2012
While sorting through some piles of paper in my home office this week, I stumbled upon a neon green piece of paper that had a title at the top of "The Legacy of a Jellybean Giver." I recognized it as a copy my mom had given me a few years ago of an essay I wrote in high school about someone who had influenced our life in one way or another. This was the story I wrote about my sixth grade teacher, a wonderful woman by the name of Mary Clarke.
I decided to share the story with you all. Please note that I typed it into this blog as an un-edited version for authenticity sake. There are some grammar and langauge edits I would make if it were my writing of today ... but for this post I have typed it just exactly as I submitted it to my high school English teacher years ago ...
The Legacy of a Jellybean Giver
I wandered into the classroom, absolutely terrified of the woman sitting at the desk in front of the room, who I had heard so many horror stories about. My classmates and I glanced worriedly at each other, wondering how we would ever survive nine months with this woman.
That was the first day of sixth grade. The "mean old woman" was Mrs. Mary Clarke, who not only grew to be our favorite teacher, but our best friend. From the first day we entered her classroom as terrified students, she taught us lessons that we would grow to remember forever.
The first thing I remember about Mrs. Clarke was the way she always sat at her desk, chewing her gum and sipping her coffee. None of us could understand why she could chew gum, but if we did, she made us write one hundred sentences - "I will not chew gum in class." Her reason? "Because I am the teacher." She definitely was.
She made up for her gum-chewing, though. Once a week, she would let us have map races, where we would go up to the chalkboard to find a certain place in the world. The first person to find it got a point for his/her team, and in the end, the winners got to pick a jellybean from her beautiful gold jellybean jar. After the winners picked their treats, the other team picked theirs, also. I think this was a very important lesson for her to teach us: that no one is a loser - everyone, in his own special way, is a winner.
Another thing we dreaded about Mrs. Clarke's class was her timed math tests. We absolutely loathed them. The second she said "Go!," our minds drew a total blank ... suddenly answers to problems we had known in first grade were lost somewhere in the back of our minds until after she told us to stop. Little did we know, she was teaching us the basics of time management. When I was a young and innocent sixth grader, Mrs. Clarke was teaching me about the same thing that I need to use every day.
Mrs. Clarke also made us memorize and recite poetry. I can remember practicing those Robert Frost poems over and over - not understanding what I was memorizing, but yet learning important pieces of American literature. As I stood in front of the class, with all eyes on me, I would silently yell at Mrs. Clarke for putting me through this torture. We all dreaded these monthly poetry recitations but later found out that she was only trying to introduce us to the beautiful pieces that we would later study and analyze in high school English classes.
Mrs. Clarke had a wonderful sense of humor. She was about sixty years old but always joked about being born "back in '02!" She told us about how she really enjoyed teaching us, because she didn't know how many years she would have left to teach.
Two years later, when I was in eighth grade, Mrs. Clarke was diagnosed with lung cancer. There was nothing doctors could do - it was only a matter of time. Her class, as mine would have been, was devastated. They had to spend the last four months of their year with a substitute teacher, only hearing daily reports of how Mrs. Clarke was doing.
I can remember that the whole elementary school made signs and went outside and told her, on the school's video camera, that we loved and missed her. I will never forget the sign my class made her - it didn't have any words on it, just lots of beautiful, delicious jelly beans - just like the ones Mrs. Clarke used to give us.
As she watched the video we made for her, while she was lying in her hospital bed, I can only imagine how Mrs. Clarke felt. That video on which all of her students stood and told her how much she meant to them and taught them probably made her feel sad, proud, and happy all at the same time.
Mrs. Clarke passed away two months later, and I can only hope that she realized the amount of inspiration she gave to all of her students. She taught me many things that I will remember for the rest of my life. First of all, she taught me that you can't judge someone before you know who they really are - the mean old woman of whom I was terrified on that first day of school turned into a wise friend who I trusted very much. She taught me about truth, love, sadness, understanding, and many other things. Finally, in her death, she taught me to make the most of any situation, because even as she was dying, she was touching people's lives and will probably continue to do so in the lives of anyone who knew her.
When I hear that song "Candle in the Wind," by Elton John, I am not reminded of Marilyn Monroe or of Princess Diana. I think of Mrs. Mary Clarke, my sixth grade teacher, whose "candle burned out long before the legend ever did."