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The Hand of a Teacher:
A Thanksgiving Story
© 2004 Steve Goodier
At first it sounded like a Thanksgiving story, but the more I reflected on it, the more appropriate it seemed for any time of the year. The way I heard it, the story went like this:
Thanksgiving Day was near. The first grade teacher gave her class a fun assignment -- to draw a picture of something for which they were thankful.
Most of the class might be considered economically disadvantaged, but still many would celebrate the holiday with turkey and other traditional goodies of the season. These, the teacher thought, would be the subjects of most of her student's art. And they were.
But Douglas made a different kind of picture. Douglas was a different kind of boy. He was the teacher's true child of misery, frail and unhappy. As other children played at recess, Douglas was likely to stand close by her side. One could only guess at the pain Douglas felt behind those sad eyes.
Yes, his picture was different. When asked to draw a picture of something for which he was thankful, he drew a hand. Nothing else. Just an empty hand.
His abstract image captured the imagination of his peers. Whose hand could it be? One child guessed it was the hand of a farmer, because farmers raise turkeys. Another suggested a police officer, because the police protect and care for people. Still others guessed it was the hand of God, for God feeds us. And so the discussion went -- until the teacher almost forgot the young artist himself.
When the children had gone on to other assignments, she paused at Douglas' desk, bent down, and asked him whose hand it was. The little boy looked away and murmured, "It's yours, teacher."
She recalled the times she had taken his hand and walked with him here or there, as she had the other students. How often had she said, "Take my hand, Douglas, we'll go outside." Or, "Let me show you how to hold your pencil." Or, "Let's do this together." Douglas was most thankful for his teacher's hand.
Brushing aside a tear, she went on with her work.
The story speaks of more than thankfulness. It says something about teachers teaching and parents parenting and friends showing friendship, and how much it means to the Douglases of the world. They might not always say thanks. But they'll remember the hand that reaches out.
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...and I have a story, too
She was my fourth grade teacher and she also served as the 'Principal' of our small Catholic parochial school. She was affectionately referred to on the playground as "Old Susanna", as in 'Oh, Susanna, don't you cry for me...' . I assure you, she had quite a few young men crying for her in those days. That particular day, it was my turn.
In a group of fellow fourth graders, I had just made some remark concerning our teacher. I had, of course, referenced her in the most common term of affection by which we knew her, "Old Susanna". The guys became deathly silent as a look of sheer horror spread across their faces. Yep, you guessed it - she was standing directly behind me.
Her hand reached out to me ... and grabbed me by the collar of my jacket. "Come with me young man". I was collared. I was dragged into the office to meet another well-known [by others, I assure you - this was my first meeting with him] inhabitant of the 'Principal's Office' - Mr. Padduhl [pronounced 'paddle']. He was a plank of 1/2" thick hickory with a fat end, kind of like a beaver's tail, and a narrow end, which was used as a handle. We met. I cried. Then I listened to a lecture on respect, and honoring other peoples' name. Sister Mary Susanne had my attention. I referenced her and all teachers by their correct and proper names thereafter. Oh, and I never met Mr. Padduhl again.
Eighth grade found me wanting to move along a little faster than we were doing as a class in math. I was by no means a math wiz of any sort, but I had our lessons down pretty good and expressed to our teacher a desire to learn algebra [back then, algerbra was reserved for high school]. Our very nice [really] teacher, Sister Mary Elmer, got me a book, some work-sheets, and started tutoring me during time when the other students were working on that day's lessons. As a result of her kindness, and a little effort on my part, I scored well on the entrance exam required by a local Catholic High School. The clincher was in the math section of the exam - most students taking the exam had not yet been introduced to Algebra. Thank you Sister Mary Elmer.
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