I thought I had pretty much exhausted my memories of fourth grade but something came to mind the other day that I feel should be documented for my kids and grandkids if they care to read about it some day. It happened one day in my fourth grade P.E. class in the multipurpose room at J.E. Rhodes Elementary.
We girls were sitting in our assigned spaces on the gym floor when the gym teacher, or P.E. teacher as we called her, asked me to follow her into the dressing room, or locker room. Of course, any time a teacher, especially a coach, singles you out in front of everyone else, the anxiety ticks up some. For me, it ticked up a lot. I had no clue what she wanted. Was I in trouble?
“Nunn, follow me.” She always called her students by their last names. I guess that’s a common practice for coaches. At the age of nine I found it intimidating.
She stood me in front of a mirror in the quiet dressing room. At least there was no one else in there. “Look at you,” she said.
I did. I saw what I saw every day when I looked in the mirror: a pimply-faced average-sized kid on the brink of puberty.
“Your skin,” she said. “Are you washing your face every day?”
I was mortified. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to run and hide. I wanted my mama. I wanted to be anywhere but where I was. I’m sure my face went red as fire. I don’t remember. Or maybe it went white. Who knows?
“Yes, every morning and every night,” I managed to reply.
I don’t remember what else she said, but I do remember that she told me to ask my mother to get some Phisohex to wash my face with. She said that I was too young to have problem skin.
I know she probably meant well, but what she did was shame me. As if my skin weren’t already a source of embarrassment, she made sure I would be self-conscious about it for the rest of fourth grade, on up through high school, and in fact, for the rest of my life.
My mother bought me the Phisohex soap, had me start wearing makeup foundation, changed my diet, and tried everything she and I together could come up with. I eventually had to accept my acne, manage it as best I could, and accept the scarring it left. Perhaps my parents with their limited budget could have taken me to a dermatologist, but I’m not sure there was much that could be done about it in the early 70’s.
I did learn what an enormous impact a teacher can have on a student. I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten over that traumatic day in the dressing room. Did she have the right to do what she did? I suppose she thought she did. Do I wish she had approached the matter with more sensitivity, perhaps contacted my parents first? Absolutely.
But I accepted what she said, swallowed my shame and mortification, and returned to the gym to do jumping jacks, run, or play dodgeball, or whatever she had planned for that day. As if nothing had happened. . .
I must add a postscript. I grew up and became a contributing member of society. I taught school for thirty years, raised two children into responsible, caring, and giving adults, taught Sunday School classes, wrote two novels and many articles and blog posts, and am now tutoring kids in English, writing, and math. I didn’t let that incident, which was earth-shattering at the time, ruin my life. It is what it is, and I’m a firm believer that God uses life events to shape us into what He wants us to become. What about you? What hardship has helped make you into who you are?
Blessings to you!