Because my boys are in public school, every Tuesday afternoon, I drop Matthew and Toby off at our church for their weekly P.R.E.P. class. When I was growing up, we called it C.C.D., but now it’s just P.R.E.P., or Parish Religious Education Program. I went to parochial school up to 8th grade, so the C.C.D. kids were always “those kids” to us. Now my kids are “those kids.”
Each Tuesday after I drop the boys off, I drive by a former teacher’s house. Barbara Mackintosh—Mrs. Mackintosh or sometimes, “Mack,” to us—was my senior year English teacher. She was a tall, white-haired woman with an infectious laugh and just enough of that subversive sparkle in her eye whenever some idea got her riled up.
We sat in rows: five rows across with about 5 to 6 desks deep. Although there was a teacher’s desk in front of the classroom, Mrs. Mackintosh sat on top of the first desk in the middle row, facing us. She sat among us: the conductor. She wore long floor-length skirts every day, which she smoothed out over her knees whenever she sat down, or at least that’s what I remember. I also remember her calling out “Off with their heads!” at random times. I think it had something to do with Tale of Two Cities. She was sarcastic and funny (I remember laughing quite a bit). But to be honest, I don’t remember much else of what I specifically learned, save a classic title here and there and some random tidbits of British history. I do remember that when Mrs. Mackintosh wanted to make a point, she often lowered her voice and paused before continuing. She was a master of the dramatic pause.
I also remember that hers was a classroom where I felt relaxed, but interested. When you sat in her classroom, you knew she knew her stuff, and you knew she knew if you didn’t. Hers was a classroom where, by the end of the year, kids could secretly plan surprise parties (mostly consisting of passing around a sign-up sheet to bring in food), and she’d throw up her hands and yell mutiny while smiling. Then, sometimes, we’d get back to the lesson.
Sometime during the fall of my freshmen year of college, a friend and I paid her a visit. (My friend was also in Mrs. Mackintosh’s class with me.) We walked right up to her house and rang the doorbell. Needless to say, she was shocked but happy to see us. We sat in her living room and caught up a little bit, sharing how things in college were going, asking about her students that year. I think she mentioned something about the administration putting one of “those things” in every teacher’s classroom. She was referring to the computer. She hadn’t turned hers on yet (cue subversive sparkle). We didn’t stay long, just long enough to finish a glass of ice tea that I think she brought out for us.
I’m not sure what it was we were looking for or what we were trying to accomplish when we paid Mrs. Mackintosh that visit. Looking back now, especially as a teacher, I think of how horrified she must have been to see her former students standing outside her home and then seeing them sitting in her living room. (Maybe this is why I’ve made it a point to live away from where I teach.)
In hindsight, I think maybe what we were looking for was a way to recapture some of the energy or magic we felt in her classroom the year before. That just by being in her presence, we could go back to being high schoolers again, instead of the struggling, homesick freshmen we were at the time. Or maybe when we paid her that visit, that’s what we were doing—making payment. Perhaps it was our way of giving something back to her, by way of that awkward visit, and that “something” was acknowledgement, a recognition of the positive impact she’d made in our young lives. We couldn’t say the words, but somehow that’s what it was.
When I drive by Mrs. Mackintosh’s home—a well-maintained colonial made of brick and tan siding, with green shutters and a two-car garage—I wonder if she still lives there. Once, I saw an older gentlemen, likely in his 70s, pulling the garbage bin up the driveway. That must be her husband, I thought to myself. Which meant that, of course, Mrs. Mackintosh is still there, even after all these years.
Honestly, I don’t know that she’d remember me. I wouldn’t expect her to; it’s been twenty years (twenty years!) since I sat her in classroom. And though I don’t know exactly how she did it, I do know that my choice to become a teacher was borne, in some measure, out of her classroom.
Maybe one day I’ll ring her doorbell again.
This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 250 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.