Monday, December 19, 2016

Teachers - Mrs. Polnachek (4th grade)

Back in March this year, I started writing about teachers that had had an impact on me, because I had missed teacher appreciation day. I have decided to change the focus and, instead of just a list, I'm going write about these teachers individually, including a little bit of what else was happening in my life around that time.

So... let’s start at the beginning.

I probably had favorite teachers in kindergarten, 1st grade (Kowloon Jr. School, Hong Kong) and 2nd grade (Clarkston, GA), but I don’t remember them. I had Mrs. Schaeffer for 3rd grade in Bissonet Plaza Elementary – she hated the way I wrote my cursive b’s -- but the teacher I remember most from that year is Elizabeth Donohue: she had long red hair, was beautiful, and I just loved her name! (Priorities!) But the teacher who had the biggest impact on me in that school was Mrs. Polnachek. I’m not sure how her name was spelled, and I am probably confusing it with Jo from “Facts of Life” -- but it’s close! …

Mrs. Polnachek had been Dave’s 6th grade teacher our first year in New Orleans (Metairie, LA), and then she became my 4th grade homeroom teacher the next year. In the middle of the year, we had to move from New Orleans to Lafayette, LA. I was already a “professional new kid” by then, having been in at least three different schools so far, but leaving in the middle of the school year was a bit of a wrench.

Our family of six (plus dog) moved to a tiny two-bedroom apartment that backed up onto a field. The apartment was provided by the hospital where my Dad was doing either another course or a residency or something, and I don't think it was normally provided to such a large family! My brother and I shared a room, and my sisters slept on the pull-out sofa in the living room but stored their stuff in our room. There was a little cement area behind the apartment with clotheslines and I think a couple of folding chairs which looked out over the huge fields behind us. Looking back, I think the fields were the land bought so the hospital could expand, but I have no idea if that’s true. The huge field was a wonderful place for our little dachshund, Patty, to play soccer with her green, hard-plastic ball. Watching her was hilarious because all you could see was the bright green ball moving on top of the long grass as she nosed it along... really, really fast!

Tangent (because there always is one when I'm telling a story): I believe that that little “back yard” was where I humiliated my brother once. He had been learning judo while we were in the States, so he had bragged to his new friends that he could flip a person. Of course, I was his victim when he practiced his tricks, so he called me over to be his “practice dummy” again. Except, I ain’t no dummy! I had learned from all that practice, so I faced him as usual, but while he was explaining what he would do, I reached up and grabbed his shirt-collar, turned around and flipped him over my shoulder! (And then I raaaaaaaannnn!!)

Anyway… Lafayette was difficult. I mean, I made sure everybody loved me (ASSIMILATE!), but it was hard to have to build up your list of friends again, especially knowing that you would be going back to Hong Kong at the end of school.  

So what did Mrs. Polnachek do? Back in Bissonet Plaza 4th grade, they had a class activity of making pot holders. You know, the hook and loop pot holders? 

Mrs. Polnachek took this as an opportunity to let me know that I was missed. She had each of the kids write a note to me and packaged them up with all of the pot holders and sent me this giant envelope. I remember getting it and sitting on the couch (Karen and Cathy’s bed) and wondering what I was supposed to do with all of the pot holders, but feeling so wonderful that she and everyone in the class remembered me. It was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for me. That I knew of at that time, anyway. Heck, I was only nine years old!

So, thank you Mrs. Polnachek. You might not know how much it helped, but you made a nine-year old kid feel like she belonged.

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