Summer was coming to an end.
The school year was fast approaching and I was about to enter the fourth grade. This was to be my first year in public school with a real teacher who’s name wasn’t Mom.
The anticipation began with finding out who my teacher was and I wanted to find out as much as I could about her by asking all the neighborhood kids about her.
Was she a young woman? She must be, she’s still single.
I can’t wait to tell all the other kids who I have as a teacher, hopefully they’ll be jealous.
Does she do fun things?
I wonder how nice she is?
These thoughts swirled around in my head as I gathered with the neighborhood kids in excitement to share who my brand new, first teacher was.
“Who’s your teacher!” asked the neighbor girl. Before I could give an answer she added, “Mine’s Mr. Herr!, He’s the best 4th grade teacher, I’m so lucky I got him!”
I finally had a chance to chime in with who I had, hoping for a close 2nd, or maybe a chance to come in with an arguable tie for the best teacher.
“I have Miss Hipkins.”
Let’s just say there was a seemingly long pause. I’m not sure if it was out of feeling sorry for me or the gratitude the neighborhood girl felt for not being in my situation.
“She’s the meanest teacher in the whole school!”
She proceeded to tell me every story she knew about her, convincing me that I was to have the teacher from hell.
Deflated, I returned home and told my parents the misfortune of the luck of the draw with Miss Hipkins. They tried to be encouraging, telling me to wait and see what happens, to give her a chance. They tried to convince me that maybe it wouldn’t be that bad; maybe the whole thing the neighbor girl said was untrue.
If only it had been untrue, even a tiny untrue would have helped.
Miss Hipkins was a tall, skinny woman, with a quintessential early ’90’s haircut. Her eyes were adorned with a frameless pair of glasses that had bright red arms which supported the frame. The red in her glasses matched the giant jar of red pens that consumed her front left corner of her desk. She was an extremely well organized person who expected the same from us.
Trapperkeepers (I loved these!) were a must and we all were required to have them.
I soon came to realize, when we got our first spelling test back, that she was living up to her reputation.
Our spelling test was made up of twenty words, to be written in sentences she had orally given to us. Upon getting our first test back, I thought I had miserably failed judging the sea of red ink that had covered my entire paper. In an effort to show me how to write cursive immaculately, she traced over all of my sentences through the entire page in red ink.
The grade was a 100%.
I took the test home and showed my mom. There was some confusion to the amount of red ink sprawled across the paper that coincided with perfect score at the top.
I was not sure, and still am not, how she expected a ten year old to have perfect cursive. As if spelling the words wasn’t good enough, that it was hard to give a student a perfect grade when my handwriting wasn’t perfect.
She demanded perfection; she always saw what was wrong.
Every monday we were greeted with a stack of the previous weeks homework. We were not allowed to go to recess until all our homework was corrected. The correcting was to be done after lunch, during recess. One classmate, Mo, saw at most two days of recess per week. That was during a good week. Some weeks he never had recess.
One day I had to stay in for recess to correct some math problems. I was stuck on what makes a prime number prime. It was my 3rd trip to her desk. As usual, when I thought I had corrected all of my mistakes, I would make the dreaded trip to her desk where she sat munching (loudly) on her carrots, celery and small container of apples.
Oddly she never ate lunch with any of the other faculty members, always by herself.
She grew increasingly angry with every trip I made to the desk. She was frustrated to the point of anger that I didn’t understand how to get the answer.
She refused to give me the answer.
I sat there, incredibly discouraged, spending the entire recess in the room because I could not understand the answer to one problem.
My classmate Mo on the other hand had it much worse. She had become so angry with him for not understanding, that she berated him to the point of tears. She belittled him, because at 10 years old, in his immature mind, he was having a hard time understanding.
I couldn’t stand her.
But what’s shameful is that I realize how much I am like her.
I sometime see myself superior in some way to another Christian because I think I have something figured out and they don’t. I demand perfection by my judgment, on how we ought to live, what to believe and how to live it out.
When I look at my view of truth as superior to everyone else’s view of truth, I become like the disciples at the Passover table during the last supper, arguing over who is the greatest among them.
“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.” Jesus replied to them and said this, “Let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.” Luke 22:24,26
And no two lives living out the perfection that we already have in Jesus will look the same.
We are encouraged to love one another and serve one another, just as Jesus had done when the disciples were arguing who was the greatest among them.
Bottom line: don’t be a Miss Hipkins or you’ll just end up crunching apples by yourself with a jar of judgmental red pens.