#18 my first "teaching" job (more accurately my first LEARNING job)...

well, it is going to be hard to write a post today. i am in mourning. my local scrapbook store is closing.... i am still in the first stage of grief... shock and denial. but moving quickly toward disorganization and despair with a brief stop at volatile reactions. i don’t know what i am going to do without the mainstay of my creativity. now after toponyms last week (and you all did figure out what those were didn’t you?), we are on to “words with nautical origins” this week. 

matt and sarah grace, you should really receive extra credit in your english classes for reading my blog. matt, you should be in therapy for reading my blog... but it makes me happy to know that you do...

ok, on to the #18th woman who had a HUGE impact on my life....

pamella gibbs. 

yes, haven’t you all heard her name? oh, you haven’t. well, that is only because i have not introduced you to her yet. soon you all will be flocking to wilmot j. fraser elementary to meet her. she was a paraprofessional in my 4year old head start classroom. which was my first job after college.


fraser elementary school is right under that big beautiful bridge in charleston. you can see the shipyard (where adam worked) from the school. the children came mostly from several housing projects that surrounded the school. i had 20 students in the morning and another 20 in the afternoon (unless some morning ones weren’t picked up on time and then we had more in the afternoon, which happened a lot). 

ms. gibbs was my “assistant” and i put quotes around it because that year she really was my teacher more than anything else. she had grown up in that area and knew everything about everybody. i had no idea how old she was, she could have been only a few years older than me, but her wisdom and skills were one of someone who had lived a lifetime of teaching.

one rainy day when she came in soaked to work, i realized that she walked to work everyday. she walked over a mile to school in all kinds of weather. i started picking her up in my car on bad weather days after that. 

that was the year of hurricane hugo and we were out of school for two weeks due to hurricane damage. when we came back to the school, my classroom was still flooded with lovely mold floating on the top of the standing water. pam and i cleaned the whole room, bleached it all down. and then every friday after the students left we moved all of the furniture out of the classroom into the hall and the weekend  construction workers came to take up tile and other things filled with asbestos. the construction people would wear masks and put up HAZARDOUS AREA signs for the weekend. then take them off as we arrived monday morning and we would have to put all of our furniture back into the classroom for the week. it was a fun year. 

i was one of 3 white teachers in the school that year. the teacher across the hall from me was a kindergarten teacher who was a former alcoholic, motorcycle riding guy. i think he was in over his head with the kids (in fact one of his students bit me one afternoon and i had to go and have a tetanus shot). and i was over my head too, straight from college into an inner city classroom. but i had ms. gibbs. i always wondered what she thought of this white girl, private school educated all of my life, coming into her world and being the “lead teacher” in name only. she seemed to take it all in stride and she was incredible generous and accepting of me. 

i did teach her how to dye rice pretty colors for the kids to play with at the sand table. and i think that might have been the extent of my knowledge passed on to her. i really shouldn’t have made more money than her. my degree wasn’t really all that and the bag of chips.

so while i was pulling the greater paycheck, she was doing all the real teaching... she taught me all about those kids. she knew a lot of their families and their situations. she knew when rayshawn was hit by a car and we went together to visit him in the hospital. she knew when antwan miller (as opposed to antwan patterson) had a new playdadddy and we his mom renamed him “tremaine” (we still called him antwan miller though). she knew when to be tough and when to be tender. she laughed a lot (mostly at me). she taught me where to go and get a delicious lunch. she helped out when a rat drowned in our classroom toilet. she helped kill the multitude of roaches (really tyrie, the youngest of 8 children was our chief roach killer, you have different “helper” jobs in the inner city. there is line leader, door holder and roach killer). she went on home visits with me though those housing projects. she knew what those kids needed. she knew what i needed. 

when i was gone on my honeymoon the first week of january, she taught all of those 4 year olds to say my new name. i used to have them all chant together... “legs siting in butterfly wings, hands in laps and eyes looking at the beautiful miss noblin” (hey, you have to get your validation where you can). i remember coming back and she was so excited for them to chant “and eyes looking at the bootiful mrs. marshall”. it almost made me cry. she was so proud. 

she made us crayon halloween costumes. she was so creative and talented and always had fun art projects for the kids to do. and she loved to find new activities. i would check out craft books from the library and we would pore over them looking for fun things to do with the kids. 

she also taught me that the week before easter was the week for the kids to practice their easter poems for church. we worked on their little rhyming couplets all week. anyone who says that the name of the Lord cannot be said in the public schools has NOT been at fraser elementary the week before the easter recitations in church. my class KNEW their lines. 

i don’t know if i ever really thanked her. i don’t know if she is still at fraser. i do know that whatever she is doing she is a success at it. ms. gibbs was one of the hardest working women that i ever knew. i didn’t know much of her history or her life, she was very private. but i do know that she LOVED children and that she was an excellent teacher to them and to me. my education classes didn’t prepare me for the needs of those children. but ms. gibbs’ education did. 

and she taught me a lot about living a full life. she was unmarried and lived alone and was one of the happiest women that i have ever known. she had a joy of living, a joy in coming to work (even walking in the rain didn’t stop her spirits), and a joy in creating things. God had established the work of her hands and she was grateful.

my only regret from that time is that i should have asked her more questions about her life, her loves, her stories. but i was busy trying to be the “teacher” when i should have relished my “student” role more. she taught me that everyone has a story and that sometimes it is better to listen to their story than to try to tell you own. i only wish i had learned that sooner and taken more time to sit at her feet and study from a master of life.

of course then i go and have this blog and tell all of my own stories all day long... so have i really learned anything? 

“Maybe nothing is more important 
than that we keep track, 
you and I,
of these stories of who we are 
and where we have come from 
and the people we have met along the way 
because it is precisely through these stories 
in all their particularity, 
as I have long believed and often said,
that God makes himself known to each of us 
most powerfully and personally.
If this is true, 
it means that to lose track of our stories 
is to be profoundly impoverished 
not only humanly but also spiritually.”
 Frederick Buechner, 1926-Novelist and theologian

i am just learning that keeping track of all these stories is to keep track of the work of God in my life... they record the pervasive tragedy of my own and often human failure, the delightful comedy of being loved overwhelmingly by  a God who called me to Himself despite my many failures, and the happiest of fairy tales of transformation through that love. the story continues onto a happily ever after that awaits me someday...