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Second Place - "The Teacher"

2008 Anne Horton Writing Award

Second Place Narration/Description

"The Teacher"


Cynthia A. Heckman


Her room is the last one down the far hallway. Just inside the doorway is an old jewelry case filled with rock samples. The first wall contains two giant green chalkboards, trays overflowing with chalk dust and old erasers. A crumbling, dusty hornet’s nest hangs in the corner. All who walk by glance hesitantly above, hoping the precarious nest will not pick that moment to fall upon them. The deep windowsill is crowded with plants. There is an ivy plant and a couple others that are too near death to be recognized. Most likely, they have been rescued from some neglected area of the building and brought to this corner window to be revived.

As a matter of fact, this corner classroom is not just a haven for plants. Every assignment, book, poster, note, and memo that enters this room may never leave again. It is even rumored that some students who enter, narrowly escape. The expanse of chalkboard that covers the front of the room is covered with assignments, students’ names, partially erased class notes, and algebraic equations. A narrow path between the wall and the huge, long desk is barely navigable. Stacks of books and papers line the floor, desk top, and spill out of the drawers that cannot quite close because of the clutter. It is possible that everything any student would ever need is somewhere in those crowded drawers. Rubber bands, paper clips, tape, Band-Aids, Tampax, graph paper, pencils, pens, Tylenol, and probably even extra clothes are lurking somewhere in the desk. There has never been a chair at the desk. There is no space or need for one anyway.

Across the middle of the room are three rows of tables. The old tables are etched with years of pen and pencil scribbling, each with two or three stools waiting for students of all shapes and sizes. The right side of the room is covered with curling faded graphs, charts and posters. Dented, dusty file cabinets and a closet straining to contain years of accumulation are at the back of the classroom.

This crowded classroom is more than just a home for an aging packrat of a teacher. It is the hub of activity at this small country school. One teacher is the catalyst for this activity. At first glance, she is a study in extremes. Her wrinkled clothes and skin suggest advanced age. Her unfashionable dress, saggy hose, and orthopedic shoes seem to be a sure indicator that her best days are past. Yet, contained in that aged shell is energy and speed unparalleled by the youth she is surrounded by. She never misses a thing. It does not take long to suspect she has eyes in the back of her head and hearing aids tuned to subsonic levels. Beneath the gray hair is a brilliant mind that is always searching for a way to reach the unreachable and teach the unteachable. No one leaves her room unnoticed or unloved. Her adherence to routine and rules is set as concrete, yet her generosity and caring is free as the air we breathe. She is the last person students come to when their homework is not done but the first one they come to when their parents are splitting up. During the years she taught at the school, the janitor rarely had to use his set of keys to lock or unlock the building because she was the first one to arrive and the last one to leave. Students, their children, and even their children’s children have learned, stretched, fought, and grown in her classroom.

Both student and teacher part with life-long lessons and memories. The students have memories of the smell of ivory soap, the piles of chalk dust, the Christmas parties with lots of homemade treats, the personalized gifts at graduation, and the endless pages of the semester exams. No one may ever know the vast memories the teacher has stored in her heart. She might see or hear of her students obtaining college degrees or professional recognition. A few may remember to thank her or let her know the impact she has had on their lives. But for the most part, she will not see the vast results of her labors. The seeds of learning she has sown will grow and reproduce for generations, the fruits of the labor and love of one extraordinary teacher. I know this is true, for I have benefitted from her influence in my life.