What If Today… You Were Gentle?

One of my works in progress. Pen and ink 11×17″

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” ~Saint Francis de Sales

“That’s not a tree! That’s a lollipop!”

So, at six-years-old, after a good cry from behind the book I had propped up in front of me, I woke up and started drawing trees the right way.

Mrs. S. never noticed my intense obsession with drawing trees that she’d set in motion. If she did, I never knew. More importantly, I didn’t care.I became acutely aware of her presence in my aisle and hid anything I was working on from her critical eyes.

A year later I was sitting on the side of the hill outside of the classroom of the same school with another teacher – an art teacher.

I remember her voice and her face. Mostly I recall how peaceful I felt. She talked about sunlight and shadows  letting us take our time uncovering the mysteries that were her reality.

This teacher had helped me fall in love with trees and art in general.

She was a gentle soul and if it’s not obvious to you, she made a very strong impression on me.

So, here are  my questions:

Back to my first grade teacher.

If Mrs. S. was pivotal in the discovery of one of  my latent talents, was there a better way for her to have served me?

And was that the only lesson Mrs. S. gave me?

I think it’s a shame that my relationship with her was damaged by this one incident. She might have been a very nice woman having a bad day. But she watched me shrink under the weight of her words. She was right there as my best friend wrapped her arms around my quivering shoulders and snapped at her, saying, “That was mean!”

When we choose anything but gentleness during a teaching moment, the message will be delivered, but that’s not all that will be shared.

We choose how we will be received and remembered.

I wish that Mrs. S. had turned around, squatted next to me and said something like, “Betsy, I’m sorry for my tone of voice. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. I want you to see what I see in you. I see a budding artist. I just wanted you to know that I think you can do so much better and I’d like you to try harder.”

This morning I feel sorry for the loss of what could have been, grateful for her part in my life, and hopeful that she knows that I forgive her.

Her heart was in the right place I think.

After all, she was a teacher.

I hope to remember to choose gentleness in all of my teaching moments and to seek forgiveness whenever I forget…

…because I’m a teacher, too, whether I know it or not.


10 thoughts on “What If Today… You Were Gentle?

    • Honesty is crucial! I think that’s what I discovered while thinking about this post. Where would I be without Mrs. S.? She was a gift to me. I truly believe that. I love her for what she did for me.
      I just wish that she’d found a better way to relate to me. Our relationship could have grown in a different direction. But I was too young to understand that. I was resentful and scared of her.
      So I’m looking at my relationships differently because of her. 🙂

  1. In French there is a saying “c’est le ton qui fait la musique” (it is the sound which makes the music), it is the how which is important in delivering a message. I remember my art teacher making fun of my drawing skills and that was the end of a budding career. 🙂
    Tough lesson for a child to learn, but I hope to emulate you and choose gentleness …

    • I’ve wondered about this, Barbara: “Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.” Leo Buscaglia. The difficulty for me is not in understanding, and standing for myself, it’s in the knowledge that there are a lot of us who were too young and innocent to understand people’s intentions and inexperienced in separating truth from perception and opinion.
      I’m looking at my experiences with cruel remarks and doing bettr weeding through all of them to find what’s useful, discarding the parts tht hurt. And I’m learning, too. The way we interact matters. Other people might get over us, but they may also write us off, too if we aren’t open to humility and direction. (I speak for myself :))

      • You are so right, Betsy, it is vital to go back with a different view on past experiences and gain a new perspective, forget about old hurts and the patterns forged by them. We will emerge the stronger for it (or so I think)!

  2. GASP! I had an Art teacher completely destroy a painting of mine!! She came up and said “Oh no, like this” and painted the most horrible sky over the one I had just finished, right in front of me, turn and grin as if she expected me to thank her… I was in shock. I also promised myself that she would never put her grubby fingers on anything of mine again! … I never did draw or paint after that, or not much…

    I think that it is important for us to remember these minutes and memories for what they teach us. It is as easy as eating pudding, to destroy someone’s dream, inspiration or the strength that keeps them in the “now”. We need to control ourselves. We need to realize we have that power and take care to never use it. Because we also have the power to do such amazing and wonderful things to, for and about the lives we intersect, through living.

    • In other words, just because we CAN say it, think about it before opening your mouth!
      I grew accustomed to criticism (constructive and brutal) when I was dancing. Funny, but that was fine with me. My creative expression – that part of dancing that was “me” – was never criticized, just my technique. Maybe it didn’tbother me because I’d signed up for it, in essence giving my permission for direction?
      Again, something to think about.We can’t melt at evry hint of disapproval, but some things are sacred!

  3. Such an interesting story. I agree, should could have been nicer.

    Would nicer have led to an intense obsession? I’m curious, because your drawing ability, now, is AMAZING.
    I’ve always wanted to learn to draw and I’ll likely take it up, someday.

    But still, I’m curious about how the impact that mean teacher had. If she had been nice, are we 100% sure you’d be the artist you are now? Maybe, perhaps she stunted your abilities. Perhaps you would have been a child prodigy. It is hard to say.

    Maybe you would suck at drawing?

    I remember, at age 12, the long ride back from Edina Minnesota, our hockey team had gotten crushed in the finals of the championship. I don’t remember the score, but it was ugly. It was our second game of the day, just like the other team, but they showed up to play, we didn’t.

    When we got back to the ice arena in Ames, all the parents were waiting. Mr. Russo said they couldn’t have their children, yet. It was around ten o’clock and we were going to have a bonus practice. We pulled on our wet hockey gear and took the ice. For ninety minutes, on tired legs, we skated from one board to the next and back. Over and over again. Coach Russo screamed until he was unable to speak. The assistant coach, Mr. Johnson, took over after that.

    Almost every one of the thirteen of us puked. Then we were done.

    I consider that one of my fondest memories of youth hockey. I remember how awful, both physically and emotionally, we all felt. I also remember how we played the next week. It may be cliche, but “What doesn’t kill us…”.

    Is it possible, on some level, she meaned you into greatness, because when I look at your drawing, that is what I see.

  4. You played hockey! My dad coached for years. My brothers played. I spent a lot of time in hotel rooms as they travelled to play.

    But I digress. 🙂

    If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s coddling. Some of the best stories I have exist because of abusive dance teachers! So much literal blood, sweat, and tears. (I never had a psycho male instructor, btw!)

    So, I’m torn.

    Would I change who I am and the experiences that made me?


    But do I want to emulate the yelling and anger as a means to an end? They were effective, no doubt.

    My oldest daughter asked me to teach her ballet once. ONCE! I was so puzzled! I’d been gentle, kind AND strong and I’d still managed to make her cry. LOL!

    But I never yelled or called her names. I just taught her the way I’d been taught. minus the meanness. Hard work and pushing through fatigue, discouragement, and weakness is required to achieve more of anything.

    So, I agree in a way. I guess, Brian.

    Wouldn’t it be interesting to try to teach a class with a duct-taped mouth? What would be left? I guess hands and legs would have to be disabled, too so there wouldn’t be any hitting or kicking either!

    I could go on and on…:)

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