When I was about four years old, I returned to preschool after a bout with strep throat. My friends told me on the playground that we were having a tying our shoes test that day. After recess, we all sat in a circle on our bottoms with our legs crossed. The teacher and class watched each student tie their shoes. She put a star by each student’s name after they completed the task. Since I’d been out for a few days, I didn’t know how. My heart beat thump-thump as I watched each student tie their sneakers.
Upon my turn, I attempted to tie my shoes- the loops and ties confused me- I fumbled, it didn’t work. I felt the teacher’s and other kids’ eyes on me as I struggled to make sense of the laces. The painful seconds stretched out as I reddened and finally gave up. Then she announced to the class, “Everybody can tie their shoes. Everybody but Nancy. Everybody gets a star but Nancy.”
Today I can tie my shoes. I do it differently than most people. Who cares? I can tie them.
I felt so shamed by that teacher it really burned in my mind….I couldn’t fathom why I had this “everyone will succeed but me” block until I traced it back to this event as a preschooler.
In high school my dad would ask me why my A-s weren’t A’s etc. or if I got a C or something he’d be mad. He would always say how proud he was of me and give me attention for my good grades. He didn’t say he loved me until he was dying of prostate cancer when I was in my 20s. There was a lot of pressure to excel academically. In college I felt if I weren’t getting A’s that I was on the brink of flunking. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get A’s, even in college I wanted to please him academically. My brother, on the other hand, felt none of that pressure, got As, Bs, and Cs. We’ve talked about it- he had a totally different experience. I might just be more driven as a first born child.
In fifth or sixth grade, I accidentally blurted out the answer during a game in math class, and the teacher, Mrs. Collins, gritted at me through her teeth,”Nancy, you ruined the game. You said the answer!”
She glared at me with her beady, clumpy-mascara eyes. She didn’t throw me out of the room that day, like she usually did. I never knew why she propelled me out of the room with such zeal. She had me sit on the bench outside of class, and I would wait until allowed back in again. She didn’t discuss her reasons for exiting me, ever, before or after the incident. My father claimed she didn’t like bright girls. She favored the more average girls who thought that she might as well have been a peroxided Virgin Mary floating above the L.A. County smog.
When I Got My Star
When people have called me superstar as an adult, it really made me smile! A teacher friend named Angel (yes, that is his real name) once bopped into my room during class and said, “Hey, did I tell you that you’re a superstar?”
He gave me a post-it note with a star and SUPERSTAR written on it. Those words really spoke life into me. Angel gave me the star I didn’t get in preschool.
Teachers like Mrs. Collins and the preschool powertripper that have taught me to be very careful with words I use with my students and my own daughter- I don’t ever want to sow what that teacher did. I never ever wanted to treat students like Mrs. Collins or this preschool teacher treated me. Shame can sow deep and hurtful, soul-piercing seeds.
Today I have forgiven those teachers. They are just people who had poor communication skills. Who knows what was going on in the preschool teacher’s life? Maybe she had been up all night caring for a sick parent, maybe she had just gotten served with divorce papers? Who knows? The greatest gift I have now is that I am free of the saran wrap I felt that separated me from the rest of the world.
Would you like freedom for true healing? Don’t let a past memory shackle you from walking toward your divine destiny. How has forgiveness freed you? Do you have a fear or resentment you need to let go?
You, too, can be free!