Today I thought I would talk a little bit about my 6th grade teacher. I had a series of hardworking, caring English teachers over the course of my childhood. Seriously, they were all great, but I’m going to tell you about the one teacher I hated.
I was scared to death of Mrs. Mignault. At the time, I was convinced she was Satan’s handmaiden. Perhaps this was just an unfortunate side effect of spending too many years in Catholic School. Or maybe it was because she was strict and grouchy most of the time. Or perhaps it was because I adored my 5th grade teacher more than I’d ever loved a teacher before. I’m sure the truth is a jumble of all those things, but for the record, I was not optimistic about the 6th grade.
But people are rarely exactly what you think they are. I specifically remember the English class where Mrs. Mignault wrote a poem on the black board. (Yeah, I said black board, I’m old school.) With her thin lips pressed tightly together, she made us copy the poem down and commit it to memory. *groan*
The poem was titled In Flanders Fields and it was written by John McCrae, May 1915. Mrs. Mignault began to recite the words. She walked us through each line. And we were quiet. We were listening. Instead of yelling at us, she was talking to us. It was the moment I realized she had poetry in her soul. The subject and the words moved her—she felt them deeply. It was about war and loss and I could picture it all so clearly.
From that moment on, I never looked at her or poetry the same way again. She taught me that words had the power to transform people. Hadn't she changed right before my eyes? I never told anyone what a life altering experience I had that day in 6th grade. I suspected they would have laughed at me. Even so, I’m sorry I kept it a secret. I wish she would have known--that from that day on—a piece of me loved her.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead.
Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, May 1915
Perhaps Mrs. Mignault is watching me. Maybe she was there the day I held my book in my hands for the first time. I like thinking she knows I’ve taken what she gave me and I hold it to the light.