That’s me. The little girl in the blue “U.S. Boys” sweater, standing beside my Fifth Grade teacher, Mr. Huebert. I have a bow in my hair my mom made and had me wear that day. I was supposed to pull off the sweater to reveal the nice dress she picked out for me to wear for picture day, but well, ever the tomboy, I kinda forgot.
I look at the class pictures from grade 5 and see quintessential Abbie. I have to laugh at this perfect expression of me. Cheerful and perfectly at home in a blue sweater atop a pretty dress with a fancy hair clip; somewhere between ready to lay on the ground to line up the perfect shot in a game of marbles and to be prim and proper at some “Sunday’s Best” family occasion.
The one thing I was never without, no matter what I was wearing, or if – on the rare occasion – my socks actually matched (not my outfit, but each other), was my imagination; and thankfully, no matter who’s class I happened to be in, it was a welcome part of the ‘teaching Abbie’ experience.
Mr. Huebert was a lovely individual who was fascinated with the assassination of JFK, oxidation, fiscal responsibility, space exploration and creativity.
It was in his class that I saw the Challenger explosion and the assassination of JFK, I put my bare hands in some oxidization liquid that was apparently incredibly corrosive but thankfully did not suffer any ill effects, and learned the value of a dollar when we took turns selling Frito-Lays chips from our portable to help fund carious field trips and school supplies. I also developed a lifelong love of Nacho flavoured Doritos. When I have them nowadays, which is sadly a rare experience, I am instantly transported back to those days and I am immediately at peace. I have previously marvelled at the power of scents, sounds, and tastes, and their power to transport us to places in time and space, and this is yet another example of that power.
He was the only teacher to help me pursue my passion for writing by taking it a step further than any other teacher had in the past. He actually encouraged me to submit my work to a children’s literary magazine. I had no idea what a literary magazine was at the time, but I trusted him and I gave him my work to submit.
It was under his watchful and patient eye that I submitted The Blue Faced Bandits; a story about a gang of 5 bank robbers with blue painted faces, knocking off banks and being chased across counties by the police and the hijinks that ensued.
The rejections I received basically said that while the story was good, it wasn’t what the publisher was looking for. Sound familiar? (Little did I know at the time, getting any sort of feedback was rare.)
He was heartbroken, but he remained positive for me. Being a primary school educator, I don’t think he had reach outside the sphere of middle /young grade publishers or magazines, but he kept encouraging me to continue to submit my stories because someone was bound to love them and find a place for them.
His support, encouragement and action were remarkable. Every child deserves to have a teacher like that in their corner at some point in their education career – especially early on.
Mr. Huebert was an amazing teacher, so when he came to tell me about an 8-year-old who had recently been published, he meant it as encouragement. Unfortunately, I viewed it as a door closing in my young naïve face. I did not understand then that there are many firsts in this industry and there was time for me yet.
My secret goal at the time was to be the youngest published author in Canada. To my mind, I was already 10. That kid was 8. I would never be 8 again, and therefore just by the mere passage of time, the cruel mistress she is, I was ineligible. I would never achieve my dream.
What is one to do? Well, this one turned her mind to more attainable things. Helping younger students develop a love a reading through the school’s Reading Buddies program and attending the school’s book fairs. While I quietly pined to have a title available for my fellow students to clamour over and take home with them, I had decided that writing was something you did as a pastime. It brought me joy, sure, but it probably would never bring in a paycheck (the struggle – as it were – continues to be real, but with age, my views on this have become somewhat less rigid and linear).
When I reflect back on my time in elementary school, I have very fond memories. I know it was not like that for everyone who went to school with me and knowing that makes me both angry and sad, but while I acknowledge their differing experiences, I cannot choose to deny the incredible nurturing and positive experiences I had there.
From my first story “The House of Doom”, written on green construction paper in the first grade, to “The New Roommate”, a friends to lovers romance I penned in the third grade, interesting topics of conversation, I’m sure, for my parents during the school’s Parent/Teacher Open House, my teachers have been very supportive of my various creative writing projects.
I am grateful for the opportunity to express my creativity, to try new things and have someone believe in me so much , that they would go above and beyond to try to get my words, the words of a little 10-year-old girl from the South End, before the eyes of a publisher because maybe, just maybe this kid’s got something and they saw it and not only let it shine, but buffed and polished it, showcased it for others to see and appreciate.
That’s love. That’s truly the only way it can be described.
These people who dedicate their education training and careers to the enlightenment and enrichment of children’s lives make such a difference that is felt decades later. It inspires the next generation of educators, scientists, lawyers, custodians, public servants and even writers, to do the best we can to try to make that person proud. To try to make the kid we were proud, as we try to live up to the ideals they envisioned would guide their life. It’s not easy – kids are idealist with pretty rigid and linear ways of looking at the world – but we try.
I think of Mr. Huebert often, especially around this time of year, in late November, when there is a lot of talk about JFK and the assassination; but recently a friend shared an old class photo and seeing him after all these years was quite an emotional experience. Now that I have my own published works out in the world, and I reflected upon that journey. I felt compelled to write this post and tell the world once again about the power of a great teacher.
I send a sincere and deeply heartfelt thank you to all of my elementary school teachers for proving once again that teaching is more than just a 9-5; and especially to Mr. Huebert for his support and for reading outside the box and in so doing, giving me my first peek at the publishing industry.
I am forever grateful.