That Teacher

Jacqueline Hill was a Physical Education teacher at my high school.

I laugh a little when I say that, because she wasn’t athletic at all.

She was a very slightly built African American woman from the South. I wasn’t particularly athletic myself, (well, I thought I was but not in a proficient way).

I became a teacher, in part, because of Miss Hill.

Back in the 70’s there was a war on, civil unrest was rampant, and our small town was in a bubble. I hated the fact that we were so isolated from others when snow blocked our path out of town. We were forced to get along with the people we lived with. In sports and academics, clubs and classwork, our school was cohesive in a weird but wonderful way.

Some may argue that we were defined by where we lived or what our parents did, which might have been somewhat accurate, but driving by my childhood home the other day, I realized it seemed larger than life to me more for what and whom it represented. It was not a mansion.

Miss Hill treated us all with respect. She joked around with everyone, even though someone might have a dad out of work or a free lunch ticket. It made me proud to fashion who I am and how I treat people, around her example.

I thought she was lazy at the time. (Sorry Miss Hill, but you liked to give your teacher assistants your work while you drank coffee). But what I realized is, while I jumped at being her assistant 2 years in a row, I might have done the work, but she was keeping a close eye on me. I broke up fights, organized Monday night intramural volleyball games, was given a key to the school ……. things we would ever dream of allowing a student to do today. She respected me and I wasn’t going to let her down.

Jacquie Hill had this way of talking that seemed like she wasn’t paying attention, but, if I had known better, I would understand it was a technique she had. I told her things and she offered advice. She had this respectful way of not talking down to me. I take that as the best lesson to bring forward today.

One thing I remember in particular, was there was a spot in the locker room where groups hung out. Intimidatingly zoned off by race, friends, sports teams,, these borders were not breeched by the faint of heart.

If you needed your gym basket, you had to enter straight into the midst of a group of bully girls. I wondered why this type of stuff went on.

I was given the job of locker room monitor to have my “eyes opened” I think.

Standing there with a clipboard, I was to keep the peace. Another lesson I maintain today. All people need to be treated with dignity. It makes a difference in all interactions and perceptions..

Miss Hill knew that.

She knew who needed to be lifted up, not based on ethnicity, but, perhaps, on the emotional vacuum that brought them into her gym classes with vacant eyes that told a story of abuse, a problem, or worse.. She gave some girls what seemed to be preferential treatment, but really, she was giving them a break from their realities.

She was cool about that. She never let it go too far.

The school has changed exponentially since I attended. My mother, who also attended in the late 40’s would certainly say something different. The students have changed. . Educators are not hired for diversity, it’s against the law. To even hire and maintain any teacher for 5 years seems to be a miracle.

I find this to be profoundly sad. Especially in a world where quality educators and diversity has GOT to matter.

If you are out there, Jacqueline Hill, Dawn Buck and I are sorry we ate all your shrimp that night we decided to pay you a visit.

You were wise to us.

You were that teacher.

Thanks for listening.

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