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Essay: Thanking Miss Quill

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Courtesy of Alexandra Rosas
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Even though school has already started in some places, the beginning of September is the time most of us remember as the traditional start of the new school year. And many of us remember one particular teacher who made us excited to return.

For Lake Effect essayist Alexandra Rosas, it was Miss Quill, her second grade teacher, who always comes to mind each September. Rosas says she was one of the great ones - a teacher who went beyond her job description:

English is not my first language, Spanish is.

I went to grade school in the early 70s, where a non-English speaking child was placed in what was then called "Special C" classes, short for Special Curriculum. There were no ESL programs, or mainstreamed classrooms, I was in a room with all types of kids, with all types of Special C needs. I did a lot of playing--mostly with Colorforms. I had taught myself to read at home, with my grandmother's Spanish books, but there were no books in Spanish at school, so I colored a lot instead.

There were numbers, math. That I could do. Math. You didn't need English to do math. My days were spent with unusual children, like me, at an open floor space. There were no desks, we were on our mats, playing with shapes, doing random math, and coloring. I went through crisp white coloring pages like popcorn.

Aside from not speaking English as well as the others, I was also odd in another way: my lunches. Papaya, mango, goat cheese. I was odd, there is no other way to put it--but, also smart. That I didn't know yet.

My kindergarten teacher was happy with me, as was my first grade teacher--I was always quiet in the corner. I never caused anyone any problems, any extra work, any anything for anybody. I can't remember the names of my kindergarten or first grade teachers. But, in the second grade, I met Miss Quill.

From the first day I was with her, Miss Quill looked at me. She made eye contact with me on a daily basis. Her eyes were green, a hazely green. She had pupils that vibrated back and forth like hummingbirds, but I got used to that. When I think back on it, I can figure out that she must have just graduated from college--she shared a house with two or three other young women. She was like me, odd. Tall, with a peculiar exaggerated gait. Her hair was the straightest hair I'd ever seen, and stopped just below her earlobes. Miss Quill dressed in simple patterns, except for the days she wore my favorite--her green and yellow paisley shirt dress. With everything, she wore her predictable ivory square-toed pumps.

She brought books for me to read at school, and math games. She'd read to me when I'd visit her (you could do that back then.) On the weekends, she'd take me to the library. We'd pick out books in English for me and she was always amazed at the size stack I chose. She would have me over to her house, where together we'd do art projects with cut out raw potatoes and stamp pads. All on that wonderfully huge school issue construction paper.

For Christmas, Miss Quill gave me my first books in English, Little House on The Prairie. I still have them. Of course, the year ended, and I went on to third grade. I don't remember that teacher's name. All would have been the same for me as it was in kindergarten, and first grade--with me in a corner, quietly doing math problems except that this time, I started out the third grade school year with a head full of English books that had been read to me, memories of trips to the library, and art projects hanging on the walls of my bedroom.

At the start of the third grade, I was sent for placement testing. On that one day, after I was tested and then re-tested, because the examiner couldn't believe my scores, and then was interviewed over and over about when and where I had suddenly learned to read and write so well, I was pulled out of the "Special C" classroom and placed into the gifted/talented classroom. This was the 70s; there were no IEP's, no parent/teacher conference; no notifications that went home. Things were just done.

I don't know what happened to Miss Quill after second grade. I was too little to know how to keep track of her and our school had two buildings: one for lower grades, one for upper grades. But I never forgot her presence in my life. I've often wanted to write her, call her, find her, to tell her Miss Quill? I love you. Do you know that, Miss Quill? I wish I had known enough to tell you then. I'm saying it now, and I'm hoping the universe somehow carries this message to you.

Lake Effect essayist Alexandra Rosas is a contributing author of the HerStories Project as well as other anthologies. She's also Milwaukee GrandSLAM storytelling champion for The Moth, and she lives with her family in Cedarburg.

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