When I was a boy in high school, I was usually shy and quiet but sometimes, given sufficient encouragement, I could be a real brat. It happened once in my Spanish class. Our teacher, Miss Beardsley, was a stern woman of indeterminate age. She wore her hair in a tight bun which accentuated the angularity of her face. I don’t recall ever seeing her smile. She was also a very strict teacher. From the first day of class, she never uttered a word in English. She was not well liked.
We students were an undisciplined lot, and on one particular day some of the boys began openly heckling her.
“Hey, Mrs. Beardsley,” called out tall Eric, the basketball player, “Oh, sorry, I mean Miss Beardsley.”
Hoots and cheers followed. Several other boys joined in the game.
“Hey Miss Beardsley,” chimed in fat Tom. “How come you aren’t married?”
Caught up in the frivolity of it all, and sensing a chance to score a few points with the popular kids, I blurted out, “Oh, come on, who would ever want to marry a horse face?”
The class erupted into laughter but a red-faced Miss Beardsley hurried to the back of the room and through a door that led to a storeroom behind the class. She quietly closed the door. For a moment we fell into silence but soon the boys, and even some of the girls, took advantage of the lack of supervision to begin general mayhem, wadding up paper into balls and throwing it at each other and similar childish outbursts.
After a while, I went back and carefully opened the door to the storeroom. I don’t remember why. I doubt that I had any legitimate business back there so I must have grown curious as to why our teacher had left the class and was gone for so long. Maybe I was afraid.
I saw Miss Beardsley sitting on a chair, crying. I was stunned, and terribly ashamed. I wanted to hug her and apologize but of course kids didn’t do those kinds of things with their teachers. When I returned to the classroom everyone wanted to know what she was doing. I told them she was grading papers.
Nothing more was said about the incident. The rest of the semester went on. At the end of the year I took my yearbook around to my friends and all my teachers for signatures. I don’t remember what anyone wrote; I don’t even remember most of the people. Except one.
Miss Beardsley wrote, in Spanish:
“Even the smallest blade of grass casts a shadow.”
Great teachers teach us lessons that have a profound impact throughout our lives. Miss Beardsley was a great teacher.