Utrust - Appreciating, Developing, and Supporting School Staff

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By: Eliza Pipkin
Milan High School

“She makes you write thirty vocabulary sentences every week, even over Spring Break!”

The first time I ever walked into her classroom, I was terrified of her. It was my first day of eighth grade and I had never met Jordan Thompson, though I had heard much about her Honors English class. Some old students loved it, while a majority had only horror stories: “One time, someone didn’t turn their project in, so the whole class got a detention!” “She only grades really bad papers in purple ink, so if she picks up her flower pen, watch out!” The list goes on. So you can imagine why I was trembling as I entered her classroom.

But wait. Am I in the right room? Surely this frail woman can not be the intimidating tyrant that I had heard so much about. She was young, maybe in her late twenties, the deadly disease enveloping her easily noticed. No matter how much makeup she wore, it was hard to miss the bruises that peppered her face and arms. She dressed in loose, soft fabrics that were gentle on her tender body. She looked almost malnourished; skeleton-like, even. But what stood out the most when I first laid eyes on her was the warmth her small frame exuded. She was sitting behind her desk – weak from all the excitement of the first day of school, no doubt – with a giant grin stretched across her bony face. I returned the smile and sat down next to my best friend.

For the entire class period Ms. Thompson stood in front of us and told us about her life… She had a dog named Charlie, whom she had rescued from a shelter a few months previously; she was a crossword puzzle fanatic; she was a tennis star in college; she would jump out of her skin whenever she saw a spider. Her outer shell did her souring soul no justice. Inside this withering shell lived someone so vital, so full of life; it pained me to see her health deteriorate over the year.

All of her students adored her. Yes, her class was just as tough as we had heard, maybe worse, but she knew how to reach us. She was so dear to us that we christened her “Momson,” a blend of “Mom” and “Ms. Thompson.” Her love for alligators made our morning grammar exercises the highlight of the class period; answer a grammar question correctly, and get to keep one of the plastic gators (with names like “Henry” and “Sweetie Pie” printed on their underbellies) on your desk all day. Oh, what a delight! To be praised in such a way was right up our alley. In light of such a demanding workload, it was fun to be treated like a kid every now and then.

Ms. Thompson was one of those rare people who could wrangle unwieldy teens and harness their potential. We learned how to diagram sentences, pick out prepositional phrases, and write. Dozens of papers taught us how to present our jumbled thoughts in a clear and orderly fashion. But she taught us more than that. On just one of the many days that she was out no-thanks to a long, sleepless nights spent in the Emergency Room, my friends and I finally figured out why we loved her so much.

She was the pulse of the class. We found it ironic that her heart was gradually weakening and wreaking havoc on her body, failing her, slowly dying. Yet she still had enough vigor and passion for teaching to show up to work sore and purpled. Her trembling frame and enormous heart kept us going when we wanted to throw our hands up and walk away. We saw in her someone who had it worse than we did but who still had a smile on her face every time we saw her.

I have not seen Ms. Thompson in the four years since I was in her class. I imagine her now as I knew her then, weak physically yet vivacious in spirit. If I could talk with her for just a brief moment, I would cling to her unsteady form and thank her sincerely for all she taught me.

Thank you for teaching me how to stay in one point of view throughout an entire paper, and reminding me over and over until it finally stuck. Thank you for coming in early to help me on my grammar homework. Thank you for showing me how to analyze the complex characters of Atticus, Jem, and Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. But most of all, thank you for showing me how to stay strong and keep going even when my life may seem like too much to handle. Your shining example is what I will turn to in my darkest moments of self-doubt and pity. Although your weakening heart may fail you, your memory will forever live strong in mine.