Hmm … My first column, I suppose I should try to make a good impression on you readers, you’re either going to love me, hate me or turn the page and that’s your decision. But if you give me a few minutes of your time, I will try my best to keep your attention.
You see … I never grew up thinking I was going to be a writer. In fact, I still don’t consider myself a writer. I barely knew how to string together a sentence in English when I enrolled into my first day of kindergarten. You see, I was raised in a home where my first language was Cree, I knew some English, but I was far from fluent. I remember that day so clearly. It was and still is the most terrifying day of my life.
My Grandmother woke me early, washed me up, fed me and did my hair. As she combed my hair, I can still remember her words in Cree, “You have to go to school and learn English my girl, they’re going to teach you things I can’t teach you. I can teach you about the things at home, but you need to go to school with other kids and learn about the things in this world. You might have a hard time for a little while, but I’ll be here when you get home and you can tell me about it and I’ll do my best to help you understand.”
Those words still echo in my head to this day. I was scared everyday that I attended. I was always in shock. I remember the summer after kindergarten and going to summer school just to catch up with my classmates because I didn’t know English. I remember, watching my classmates on those beautiful summer days as they rode their bicycles and played in the playground as I trudged my little body to summer school. Every morning I expressed my disdain to my grandmother and begged her to just let me sleep and play. She always laughed, answered with a smartass remark in Cree and told me to wash up, eat and get my butt to school.
Slowly, I started to learn. When I messed up, I was gently corrected by my summer school teacher. However, I was also met with cruelty by the kids, “… hey there’s that dumb Indian kid that doesn’t even know English.” They walked away and laughed, sometimes they threw rocks, sometimes they were too involved in play to even notice. I remember always walking home and thinking, “I’m going to learn this stuff, Grandma said.”
Life at school was always a struggle, I never understood verbs, adverbs, nouns, prepositions, blah, blah, blah … I hated it all. I don’t think I even had any social skills, I was always angry. I fought at recess and hated anyone with light skin because they always made fun of me. Did I have a big chip on shoulder? Oh yeah.
Every day that I went to school, it was my mission to stick up for myself and to never let my guard down. To this day, I still don’t understand how I took to math and social studies so well. Phys. Ed was a given A+ because I had to always out race and beat all the kids in my class in everything physical, I loved sports and I was good at all of them. Thinking back now, I’m certain those are the subjects that got me through the first few years of school.
And then there was Grade 5 and Ms. Hein. I couldn’t stand her. She always had a beautiful smile, beautiful blonde hair, words of encouragement, and an excellent disposition. I found myself wanting to break her with my crappy attitude and lack of attention. She never faltered. She still smiled at me daily and gave even more words of encouragement.
Finally, after one day after school she approached me and said, “Sharon, I think we need to do some work together. You’re very smart and I think I could learn a few things from you. Would you like to try spend some time together after school and see if we can figure some stuff out?”
She blew me away. I was floored. Aside from discipline, I had never had any sort of discussion with a teacher. I reluctantly agreed and we began to work together after school every day.
A couple months of her tutoring and I began to really understand everything I had missed. My grandmother was happy, I began to make friends and for once I was confident in my communication skills.
But when did it really hit home?
Ms. Hein began our Language Arts class with a speech, “I’d like to start this class by telling you all that I think each and every one of you is smart, and you all have my heart. I’m one lucky lady to teach you. This last week’s book report was a tough one and I know I made you guy’s work really hard. But … There is one student that I’d like to congratulate cause she had the best mark in the class… And that mark was 98 per cent. It goes to Sharon.” She walked over to my desk with my report in hand with tears in her eyes and whispered, “Way to go kiddo.” In all the moments of my life, this is by far one of the best. From that day forward, my life changed and she made that year the first academic year I’d ever had.
She was gone the following school year. I was heartbroken. I asked the principal where she had gone and he said she transferred after she got married. Years later, when I’m blocked, I think of her tireless words of encouragement. Thanks Ms. Hein.
So there you have it. I write because I love to. I write because I can. I write because I was taught. Hope to grab your attention again someday.
Sharon Thomas is a Saskatoon freelance writer. Her column appears every fourth Friday in rotation with Jessica Iron Joseph, Lori Q. McGavin and Kevin Joseph.