At any school, but especially in a small town, a teacher’s reputation precedes them. Students all over the country are probably losing sleep tonight in fear of a teacher they might get in a few years, or drafting letters to request a teacher that they’ve heard is awesome. In 10th grade, I was placed in one of those teacher’s Geometry classes. I know that some of you Carrollton people are getting the dry heaves just thinking about that teacher. But I bet that some of you, are fondly remembering how the dread you felt walking into her class paled in comparison to the impact she made on your life. She was not a teacher that you could suck up to. She was not a teacher you spent months trying to figure out. She was straightforward, diligent, intelligent and passionate. You knew from the first day that if you did things her way, you would excel. For some kids, this is not the ideal learning situation. For a kid like me, who probably had, “Give her an inch, she takes an acre” stamped on her permanent record, she was the dream teacher. If I didn’t know the boundaries, I would set them as far apart from each other as I could. If you tattooed the boundaries in my brain, then I didn’t exert the energy required to challenge them. For the first time, the box that this teacher created in my brain made me believe that I was not a complete idiot in math. For the first time, someone gave me the skills that helped me prove to myself that I was a semi-mathematician.
This was back in the mid-1990s. For all of you non-history buffs I’ll give you a brief American History lesson. At the time, President Clinton was under scrutiny for his relationship with Ginnifer Flowers. (No Monica….yet!) The Speaker of the House of Representatives (which, I’m sure you remember that he opposing party won back the majority in the mid-term elections of Clinton’s first term) just happened to hail from our town. His first wife happened to be the no-frills, what you see is what you get, amazing Geometry teacher. They did not have a common last name, she was no Ms. Smith or Ms. Jones. Really, you had to live under a rock to not make the connection. Luckily for her, many high school students and their parents lived under that rock. My family, however, sat on the rock to watch political debates and engage in lively discussions. If we did not already have a personal relationship with her, we would have connected the dots. I had Geometry 4th period. That meant that we had an hour for class, 30 minutes for lunch, and then a 30 minute block where we watched CNN as a time filler, I mean curriculum enhancer. Day in and day out, her former husband would make one of the news stories. I would always try to watch her to see if she made any sort of reaction. Day in and day out, she remained stoic. In a moment of time that I hope never to forget, she finally cracked. When I say, “cracked,” I don’t mean she flipped her desk over and cussed us all out. She didn’t even throw a Geometry book at the TV as I would have done. Instead, when her ex-husband was holding a news conference in which he but any television evangelist to shame in his sermon of “family values,” she easily walked to television. She stood on her tiptoes, reached up as if she were plucking an apple from a high limb, turned the TV off and said calmly, “Well folks, there’s only so much bull you can handle in a dayc. Please use the rest of the time to read or study.” She then walked (not stomped) back to her desk, picked up her book and continued reading. BOOOM! I looked around to see if anyone caught the irony and momentous stand she had just taken, but most everyone was asleep or in a catatonic state. She could have been making the morning news shows rounds with her story, she could have written a best-selling book that read like a novel, but instead she stayed in Carrollton and taught Geometry better than any teacher who has ever existed. She could have used her classroom as a platform to speak out against her ex-husband. Instead, she just gave us a life lesson that sometimes you have to turn off the bull!
So, what does this have to do with MollyROCK? Oh, more than you could imagine. Her statement, “Well folks, there’s only so much bull you can handle in a day,” comes into my mind at least once a week. Recently, it has drifted into my mind more frequently, and her deep voice has been a key note in my mind’s soundtrack. I work with adolescents in many capacities. Every single day, Molly’s story dictates how I view things, how I react to things, and how I respond to things. What I know about adolescents is that they, like I did so long ago, need to know where they stand with people. They need to know just how far they can push the limits before they are called to the carpet. They need to know that someone can see through the smoke and mirrors they put up. I recently called out a child I work with about the image she was portraying on social media and with her actions. We had a conversation about it, I did not ask her if she had done the things, I saw the proof. She tried to back pedal, but I channeled that beautiful soul who etched the Pythagorean Theorem into my brain and said, “Honey, there’s only so much bull I can handle in a day.” She got mad. She probably hates me. But, as an adult who loves her, I couldn’t let her think that we don’t see it. I couldn’t let her think that she can push the boundaries and face no repercussions.
It hit me then. I called Molly out one day, a month before she died. I asked her if she was having S-E-X. She said, “No.” Deep down, I knew that she was just like Newt Gingrich preaching about family values. (OMG, people, not really!) But, I let her slide. I didn’t get a Sharpie out and draw the boundary on the floor. I should have. I should have told her the old line that, “You can’t bull**** a bull****er.” I didn’t. I didn’t call her on her bull and it left us all broken. Maybe I didn’t have to call her out in a blatant way. If I had been my Geometry teacher, I would have just left a pregnancy test in her bathroom. I could have left some literature on teenage pregnancy on her nightstand. I could have calmly gotten up and turned off the TV.
The ROCK conversations you have with your kiddos aren’t all sunshine and roses. Sometimes, you have to call it what it is. Bull. If you are RADICAL and OPEN about it, whether it’s throwing the shoe or just calmly turning the TV off, you might save yourself a lifetime of pain. The teenagers in your life don’t know that they want those boundaries. They don’t know that you yourself were a bull****er too.
Thank you Jackie G for teaching me integrity, composure, dignity, boundaries, and more than I could ever hope to teach the students who might be losing sleep over fear of having me one day. You continue to inspire me with MollyROCK, just as you inspired me to memorize all of the theorems and Geometry stuff.
More than meat loves salt,