Sunday, February 28, 2016

Public Schools Work – A Lasting Impact

Sometimes when you are little, things happen that forever change your life. My story is not dramatic compared to today’s problems, but in my own little world, everything that was important to me was about to be pulled apart and eventually uprooted. Divorce was still kind of a dirty word in the late 1980’s. Families seemed to stay together even if it wasn’t a good situation. We all knew that one kid in class whose parents weren’t together anymore, and everyone felt sad for them.

I was about to be in the third grade at ___ Elementary, and I loved school. I enjoyed my classroom, lunch, recess, and all of the perks of being a carefree child. I will never forget that summer right before school started when we received the much anticipated letter telling us who we had for our new teacher, and mine was Mr. Bloom. I didn’t know much about him except that my older brother enjoyed his class a few years earlier, and I thought he seemed nice during recess from the year before. All I really cared about was whether or not my friends were in my new class with me.

Right away, there was something about Mr. Bloom that I liked. He had a big voice that was strong and commanded our attention without being scary. He made us laugh. and he always listened. I loved how he read to us after lunch. He would turn the lights off and we would all put our heads down on our desks as he walked around the room and read. His voice was soothing, like my mom’s was at bedtime. I will never forget how much I loved his story time. I would become completely enthralled in the book, a temporary escape from an all too real situation that was building at home.

I always thought that I had a special connection with Mr. Bloom. I was a light hearted little kid and could be funny without being obnoxious. (I hope!) I can remember him laughing at something I said more than once, and for a child that is lacking that reinforcement at home, I know that it was important to me that he enjoyed having me in class.

Right after Christmas that year, my family had a particularly hard weekend. My mom and dad fought a lot, but we were all used to it and didn’t think much of it. Things seemed different, however, and we were all old enough to recognize it. They sat us down and told us they were getting a divorce. We were also moving, which meant changing schools and leaving our home behind. I was devastated. My family was falling apart and everything I knew and loved was about to change.

That Monday, I went back to school. I was sad and withdrawn. I remember sitting with my sister at lunch instead of my friends. She was a fifth grader and equally despondent. There was nothing we could do to fix our parent’s problems. We would walk home quietly together and then sit up in her room. Each day was never ending. By Wednesday of that week, I was a mess. I was holding in so much, and there wasn’t anyone to talk to. I had stopped participating in class and withdrew socially. Mr. Bloom knew it immediately.

I am sure there was a moment where the other kids saw Mr. Bloom come over to me and kneel down by my desk. I am sure someone came in and watched the classroom for him as he quietly walked me to the adjoining room. I don’t remember any of that. But that day was a defining moment in my childhood. As we went and sat down in the other classroom, he quietly asked me what was wrong. I remember that being all I needed to hear…he knew I was hurting and I began to sob. At that point, I didn’t care. He didn’t need to say anything because what I needed was to be held and rocked like the broken child that I was. This man, this father, this teacher recognized that I was going through something horrible. My world was upside down and he knew it. It was everything I needed at that exact moment. I needed to feel safe and comforted by a grown up I trusted. My parents were dealing with their own emotions, and I felt so alone. He listened when I told him what was happening at home. He explained that it wasn’t anything I had done, and he told me that it would get better…it was exactly what I needed to be told at exactly the right time.

What may seem insignificant to an outsider was life changing for me, even at nine years old. I had enough common sense even then to realize things were going to be a lot different after this school year. But I had someone who cared and made the rest of that school year awesome. School was my escape. I joke to my mom even now that Mr. Bloom’s talk saved me from years in therapy. He was the one reliable person in my life that year. His class was my safe place and he made my days normal. For this I am forever grateful.

The part of this story that makes it extra special is that a few months ago, my kids had dentist appointments one morning before school started. When I was finally able to drop them off, my son pointed to a car in the parking lot and told me it belonged to Mr. Bloom. I knew that he volunteered at their school, but I never wanted to go in and find him and seem like this crazy kid from the past. I liked my story and the memories from that school year are something I hold very dear to my heart. Mostly though, I was afraid to have something so special to me be understandably forgotten by him. I mean, come on! The man taught for twenty five years after that. I was his student at a crazy, hectic time in his life when his own children were small.

After I dropped my kids off at their classrooms, I had this overwhelming urge to peek into the library just in case I felt it was the right time to say hello. I didn’t want to bother him because I knew he was tutoring, but something made me walk in and ask if he was available. When he came out of his office, and I introduced myself, he seemed to remember me. We talked for a moment but I felt like I needed to go so he could continue on with work. After I said a few words about who I was and what year I had him, his face softened and he asked me if I remembered our talk all of those years ago. I could not believe it! This was such a special and significant memory for me, and he remembered it too! I was ready to cry, and I just wanted to hug him like he hugged me all those years before. I was speechless and used that as my excuse to go. I called my mom as soon as I got in my car. She knew how special that school year was for me and was so excited that he hadn’t forgotten it either.

I know God brought me into Mr. Bloom’s classroom that year on purpose. He had little kids at home that he loved, and that allowed him to relate to us. We were real people to him, not just little faces. We had our faults, our problems and our shortcomings; but that was okay, he understood us. I think I probably had him as my teacher at an important time in both of our lives. He was a good dad who knew how to relate to me because his kids were my age. I was a little girl with a dad who was physically present at home, but absent when it came to listening, guidance and affection.

I want to share this story because I have kept it to myself for so many years. I think it is important for people to understand just how significant a teacher can be to a child. Mr. Bloom was the person I desperately needed in my life then. I trusted him, and I felt comforted, safe and loved in his classroom. He listened to me and in return, I listened to and respected him. I grew and learned more that school year than any other year following. I thank him for being that special teacher for me. I am almost forty now, and I remember that school year like it happened only yesterday. Thank you for being such an amazing person.


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