Remembering Mr. Allison (part two)

Mr. Allison delivered me from the educational miscarriage of my 6th grade year. He knew I needed more challenge than this class was going to provide and found creative alternatives for keeping me engaged. For most of the year he sent me to be Miss Raab’s helper in the Special Ed class. At least weekly, I would go to the other end of the hall to read to her kids. Though the stories I read were well below my academic ability, the job was important. And I was the only student in the school entrusted with it.

Then, Mr. Allison did something that transformed our entire class. I think it started as a playground taunt: one of the smart kids called us dummies. A boy in our class struck back. “Oh yeah? I bet Pat could beat you in a smarts contest any day.”

Shortly after, Mr. Allison announced we’d have a spelling bee. Our class against the smart kids. He put us in training. We memorized word lists and did drills and practice bees. The playground at recess filled with boasting and jeers. By the day of the contest the rivalry was palpable.

With desks pushed aside, our two classes faced off. One by one we stepped forward to spell. About half on each side made it through the first round. We went again. And again. I was the last one standing for our class. I faced Leonard, the brainiac of Mr. Bell’s class. My stomach churned as I wiped sweaty palms on the side of my skirt. My entire class was cheering for me, depending on me to prove a point.

Sadly, I don’t remember how it ended. It doesn’t matter. For those few weeks, my classmates and I knew we were smart enough to go up against the smartest kids. We worked as a team towards a singular, academic goal. We proved we weren’t the dummies that everyone thought us to be.

Mr. Allison encouraged us to stretch ourselves. He showed us how to challenge stereotypes and overcome our own preconceived limitations. He believed in us, gave us confidence and instilled pride in our accomplishments. And after all these years, he is the only teacher whose impression I still carry with me.

Who were your great teachers? Tell us your story of teachers and mentors who had an impact, and changed your life.

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Pat Abrams, Executive Director