Hello, Mrs. Hagerman. Remember me? It’s Braden. I was in your first grade class at Laketown Elementary in the 1986-87 school year. How old would you be, now? 70’s? 80’s? I just remember you were much older than my parents, so I figure you’d land in that range now. Oh, and sorry if I’m spelling your name wrong; I never had to write it out as a kid, and it’s tougher to spell than Harley, York, or Fowler (2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades, respectively; I’m sure you remember them).
I don’t know where you are these days, or if you’re even still alive, but I’ve had the desire to write you for a very long time. We’ve all heard the stories about people locating and contacting old school teachers and thanking them for the valuable lessons they learned in the short but valuable time their lives crossed paths. They’re usually tear jerking, heartwarming, and inspirational.
This time, not so much.
Before I really get in to this, I think I need to give you a disclaimer. Looking back over our childhoods at the times we got in trouble by an adult, we can usually discern where WE went wrong at the time and can understand and appreciate the discipline we received. Why, I remember at age 9 I mouthed off to a youth leader at my church and I got in huge trouble from him and my parents; it wasn’t until years later that I fully realized exactly why I had to apologize to him. Then there was the time I talked bad about my step mom to my friends and she overheard me and I later got chewed out by my dad; I’ve always regretted the things I said and actually think I got off light. Or the time my freshmen year of high school when I was smoking on school grounds, got caught by the swimming teacher, and was given in-house suspension for a day. I deserved what I got. I bring this up because I don’t want you thinking I’m one of these modern, entitled youths that feel deeply wronged and oppressed when they get arrested for trying to walk out of Old Navy with $273 of merchandise stuffed into their coat. I’m a mature, rational adult that has little problem admitting when he was wrong about something and when the consequences he suffers are deserved.
So, with that said, I feel established enough to say that you were a bully, and your clear dismissal of me and my education and future no doubt had an influence on the difficulty I had in school in the years that followed. Shall I support that with some memories? Because I can.
I clearly remember not paying attention one day, attempting to draw the M.A.S.K. logo, and you got upset that I wasn’t listening so you slapped the chalk in my hand and threw me in front of the class saying, “Fine, Braden, YOU teach the class,” and sat in my chair. I stood no doubt like the proverbial deer in headlights as my classmates stared at me and chuckled. “Go on! Teach!” you said, right before I cried, saying, “I want to go home,” and the classroom erupted in laughter. I know I was a daydreamer. I know I didn’t pay attention like I should have (at age SIX). But do you at all think that this was a bit of an overreaction? I thought you should know that I still remember exactly how that felt, and it sucked.
I can keep going. Remember that project we did where we went out into the school yard and found a piece of litter, brought it back inside, glued it to a piece of paper, and then drew a picture around it? The example you showed us was from the previous year where someone used a ketchup packet as an elephant’s ear. Well . . . I looked and looked in the ten minutes you gave us to find some litter and all I could find . . . was a mustard packet. I’m a pretty creative guy, and I certainly was a creative kid, but it’s always been hard for me to be creative on command. It was a struggle to come up with something for that project, and with the clock winding down, I decided to move forward with making it into a dog’s ear. Later, either that day or the next, you had collected all of our drawings and presented them in front of the class. I remember being amazed at the things the kids in my class 1) found in our playground, and 2) drew around them. “Oh, here’s John’s, and he did a [insert creative drawing],” you said. “And here’s a [insert creative drawing] by Nikki; very nice.” I watched in anticipation as you came to mine and held it up in front of the class, ” . . . well, this just copied the one I showed you yesterday,” and moved on. That crushed me. I know it wasn’t the most spectacular idea anyone ever had, but it was MY drawing. And have I mentioned that I was SIX?
And the memories get more detailed. You were teaching us about compound words. I had missed your explanation of what a compound word was, but wanted to participate in the discussion. You asked the class to name some compound words, so after a couple other kids went, I raised my hand, “The!” As a now-30-year-old, I can clearly see the humor in that situation, and can also understand where “blame” lands on me for my inattention, but I remember your reaction. It was pure disgust. There was no chuckle or “oh, silly kids” tone in your voice when you said, “No, Braden, ‘the’ is not a compound word.” It was condescension. Now, how sure can I be that I’m remembering that right? Because I remember that the next kid to raise his hand was Kevin Cripe, and he offered the word, “into,” to which you moved on, “Very good, Kevin.” It’s a pretty clear memory.
Now maybe you, or someone reading this, are thinking that much of this was through the eyes of a child and therefore not reliable. You know, I’d give you the benefit of the doubt all these years later if it hadn’t been for that time I ran into you when I was in high school. It was during a multi-elementary-school Christmas performance that my little brother was in. I first went to see Mrs. Harley (you know, she wasn’t all that nice of a person in 2nd grade, either, but she was always friendly to me when that year was over). Then, I made my way over to you, “Hi, Mrs. Hagerman!” and you just stared coldly at me. “Um . . . I’m Braden Bost, I was in–” “–I remember you,” you said, still lacking any appearance of interest in me. “Okay, well, nice seeing you!” That pretty much sealed my memories of August 1986 to June 1987, and my opinion of you.
So thank you, Mrs. Hagerman, for the overly harsh lessons and insecurities in an educational environment you either instilled in me or fanned into flame. I wouldn’t dare blame all of my academic shortcomings into my early adulthood on that school year, but make no mistake that someone showing heart and compassion, rather than wrath and anger, would have made a world of difference. But from where I’m standing now, I look over all that has come to pass and have admit to myself that nothing can change what has been.
I forgive you–mostly for my sake, because I don’t want to carry these memories in the same way I have anymore. But I hope that you caught on to the errors in your methods (be it by self-evaluation or from an angry and frightening parent) fairly soon after I moved on, because it frightens me to think about the hundreds of children that came before and after me that you could have (and likely did) send down the same path.
In spite of everything, I hope this letter finds you well.
Braden, the daydreamer.