Mr. Kruse, teacher I met halfway through 6th grade, looked at me my second day I was there. I’d not done the assignment, and I was ready to be shamed again — what he said was life-changing. “ I am surprised. From everything I read and saw, I know you are the smartest kid in class.” Then he went on with the lesson.
I was stunned.. Everyone before had told me they were disappointed in me, that I was not performing, that I didn’t speak well. I wore hand-me-downs, and spoke in a whisper by then. I never fit and I thought I was stupid — it’s what I’d been told.
This was the fifth school I’d attended since Kindergarten, and somehow the teachers were *always* “disappointed in me and the way I couldn’t measure up. My second school was a one-room school, and I was reading Kipling and other 19th century authors in the books there. The third school (second grade) they gave me a slim book which I read during the time the class was reading the first (5 page story of maybe 5 paragraphs total!). The teacher called me front of the class and told me to apologize to the class for saying I read the story and the whole book before they’d read that story. Other schools .. much the same. Math seemed beyond me and most of what they talked about seemed beyond me.
So there was Mr. Kruse, telling me not only that I was smart, but the smartest?!? Everyone knew Doug was smartest! I seldom had problems understanding the work after that. After all, I am *smartest* — Mr. Kruse said so!
He knew when we were confused and cleared confusion before it could grow. He encouraged the best in each of us — that in a classroom that usually held 2 grades in it (it was a parochial school). He told us the best thing we could learn was not memorizing facts and figures, but how to research and draw our own conclusions. That the purpose of school was to teach us how to think, reason, and learn. When I whispered, he smiled and said I should learn to speak loudly, because Gabriel wasn’t going to come blow a horn so all could hear me. LOL. He asked me once in class who I thought was the right side in a war (I was the only one who didn’t raise my hand to answer). When I replied that the winner would be thought right, he calmed the eruption the class made, and asked why. “Because they write the books we learn from.” He then took the whole class on a real discussion about how we perceive winning, losing, and the perspectives of history. He mostly asked questions, prompting us to think and respond. And we ALL responded. He encouraged us to challenge (POLITELY) but to be ready to show why we challenged — and he challenged us without our realizing it.We learned events, we learned the difference between numerals and numbers .. and all but 2 of us made honor rolls regularly in High School. He found talent in each of us, and commended each of us publicly. When I interned in a Sixth LD grade class years later (where I learned I could not be a conventional teacher!), Mr. Kruse was the model I used. I was able to help them know that LD means Learns Differently.
I wish, wish, wish I would have found and told him later that he is the reason I became whole, instead of a compliant,tearful, fearful, stupid girl. Because of that teacher (and my grandma) I learned I had a wonderful mind, a different way of reasoning, and it was not only ok, but a treasure.
I sincerely thank one of my favorite authors for asking a question of us (followers) asking us to tell about an educator most responsible for shaping our life. I wish I’d told Mr. Kruse, years ago, what he did for me.