Filling out my 2010 Census today (there’s nothing like waiting ’till the last minute), I approached the question about race. I paused, warm memories of Mrs. Overbay flooding the forefront of my mind.
They have my phone number, I thought. And my address. They’re going to call if I do it.
Let them, I finally decided, checking the “other” category and writing in “human.”
It wasn’t about being a rebel. Or sticking it to the man (though that’s always fun). It was about my favorite teacher and one of the lessons she taught me when I was a mere 12 years of age.
Mrs. Overbay (who later became Dr. Overbay, but said we should continue to call her “Mrs.” because she worked longer to obtain that title), was the perfect middle school teacher. She taught high school toward the end of her career, which I have no doubt she was great at too, but she will always be a middle school teacher to me.
When I was in her class, I remember thinking how quirky, but how very cool she was. We didn’t always see eye-to-eye, mainly because she called me out on my BS, but she was the one I turned to when my pre-teen angst got the best of me at school. And she was always there with a soft shoulder, a koala bear hug, and words of wisdom that I would think about not only in that moment, but also for years to come.
Several years later, I saw Mrs. O in a different light when I completed my community service project by being her aide. I saw that there was a purpose for all of her quirks – even going into the closet to scream – and it was those afternoons with her that ultimately led me to my decision to teach middle school, not high school or college like I had always thought I would.
Even though I was older, Mrs. O still gave me advice to think about as I graded her students’ papers. And even though I was past the prime of my pre-teen angst, I still talked to her and entrusted many of my secrets to her understanding ears.
I kept in touch with Mrs. Overbay through my college years. The card I received from her in response to my graduation announcement is one I held – and still hold – most dear. When I started my internship in graduate school in a seventh grade class, the grade that introduced me to my favorite teacher, I received word that Mrs. Overbay had been hospitalized. I attempted to visit her during my spring break, but she was too sick to receive visitors. The doctor kindly took the letter that I had put in my purse just in case I couldn’t see her. Whether or not she ever read it, I don’t know, but I’d like to think she did. In it, I told her how I was interning for a seventh-grade class. Because of her.
A few weeks later, as my internship came to an end, Mrs. Overbay died. When I went to her funeral, I told her that all the gratitude I received from my students in those final days were indirectly for her, because she helped me to become the teacher that I was. I thanked her for the kindness and respect with which she treated her students and silently vowed that I would do the same.
Though I’m no longer in the classroom, Mrs. Overbay still comes to mind when I talk to my friends from middle school, when I think about my former students, when I engage in political debate, when I try to find a country on the map in my mind, or when I’m doing my job in trying to better education. My Facebook status today says, “Writing ‘human’ as my race on the Census. That one’s for you, Mrs. Overbay. ♥” If the number of classmates who marked that they like my status is any indication, I’m not the only one who still thinks of her and loves her. I hope she knows.