Seasons of Change: One Woman’s Impact

March 29, 2016

I was seven when I realized I loathed the taste of change.

I missed the friends I played with up and down the block before our cross-country move. I missed the dog my parents sent to live with someone else. And I missed my old school.

My old school had what I later learned was a progressive approach toward education. Classes offered mixed-grade materials; I read books I liked, regardless of their assigned level; I enjoyed writing in cursive (and was proud of my puffy-shaped uppercase B’s and P’s).

My new classroom was not a nurturing environment for learning … or anything.

The first time I wrote something in my new second-grade class, the teacher reprimanded me for doing it wrong. She made me start over — NO CURSIVE ALLOWED — because “we” hadn’t yet been taught how. (By the time my fourth-grade teacher introduced it, I couldn’t make the P’s or B’s look right anymore. To this day, I still miss those perfect letter poofs.)

My new teacher yelled. A lot. (Screamed, really.) She also overturned a desk one day when she got angry about … only-she-knew-what.

It never occurred to me to tell my parents how unhappy I was at school (or about my teacher’s volatility). I was too sad, too afraid, too busy keeping my head down.

Literally.

One day a substitute read a book to our class. I listened with my face pillowed onto my arms, which were folded across my desk. Everyone else sat up, attentive to the story. At some point, the woman paused in her reading and asked, “What’s wrong with her?”

I glanced up — just long enough to see her pointing at me — and dropped my head again. One of my peers answered, “She’s new. She’s just like that.”

And just like that, I heard my new identity. I was “that new girl,” worthy only of indirect attention, homesick though I was.

The only bright spot in most school days was the smiley face Mom had drawn on my lunch napkin.

The exceptions were the days (once a week) when our class walked down the hall to the art room for an hour. I stepped into Mrs. Nancy Ingle’s domain and … while I was there, I mattered. “Very nice,” I heard as she walked behind me down the row of tables. “I like how you …” and then she patted me on the shoulder while she pointed out what it was she liked about my creation.

I wasn’t the only one she nurtured in her stained and sometimes sticky classroom. Mom later told me that when she went the following year to parents’ night at the school, Mrs. Ingle introduced herself by saying, “I don’t teach art. I teach children.”

Her room became my haven the rest of that year — and for the rest of elementary school. She encouraged me to enter poster contests and invited me to join a few students in creating a display for the local history museum. Mrs. Ingle even asked me to help another student reconstruct a two-foot-tall broken pottery piece; in the back corner of her classroom, we painstakingly glued the archaeological puzzle shards into a (mostly) solid artwork  during older students’ art time.

Third, fourth, fifth, and sixth grades … Mrs. Ingle was the constant I counted on. Clay and papier-mâché, watercolor and weaving, ink and collage and batik wax and dyes … these colored my hands while Mrs. Ingle put color back into my school days.

When I left Princeton Elementary School behind, leaving Mrs. Ingle was the hardest part of that change.

9th gr self portrait Teresa TL Bruce

When she later joined the staff of Lee Junior High during my eighth and ninth grades, that was the best part of those life-altering years (while being bullied as a “brain” in bifocals and knee braces). In ninth grade she arranged for me to have my own art show — a collection of my work on display at the local library. She submitted my ink-and-watercolor drawing that won an honorable mention in the school exhibits at the prestigious Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival. She taught me the oil wash technique that resulted in my English teacher seeing my painting and asking to buy it for her living room wall.

9th gr hon men WP Sidewalk Art Festival Teresa TL Bruce

It was Mrs. Ingle’s earlier influence that empowered me to prioritize art classes through high school when school administrators urged me to drop them for what they called “more appropriate” academic courses. Because of her earlier approval, I took art classes in college even though they weren’t in my major.

12th gr self portrait Teresa TL Bruce

It was Mrs. Ingle I emulated (along with other PTA parents) presenting Arty Facts activities to every class at my children’s elementary school. It was Mrs. Ingle’s enthusiasm I remembered when (after their principal cut art education — and the art teacher — from the school budget) I created and presented social studies art projects for my daughter’s fourth-grade class every other week.

Mrs. Ingle believed in me.

And that made all the difference.

Who has helped you grow through a difficult change in your life?

___

Author note: When this post was published, I incorrectly spelled my beloved teacher’s last name as Ingall, the way I’d incorrectly remembered it from childhood and early adolescence long ago. I’m delighted to report that social media (via this blog, a mutual friend, and Facebook) put me back in touch with Mrs. Ingle after so many years. You can read for yourself the warmth of her personality in her responding comment below.

10 Comments

  1. Karen Austin

    March 29, 2016

    Hooray for this woman’s influence on you. May we all strive to show people compassion, to give people hope, to see others in a positive light. Thanks for sharing how this person helped you through a challenging time.

    • Teresa Bruce

      March 29, 2016

      I so often thought of her as I helped my children and their peers create their own works of art. Many children struggled with their class assignments. Seeing them take pride in creating was a joyous process.

  2. Bea

    March 29, 2016

    When I was in my last few years of Primary, we had a song leader who didn’t just teach us the songs; she taught us how to sing. We learned basic exercises on breathing and how to improve our quality. I loved it so much that I joined girls choir in 7th grade and continued choral singing through college and into my adulthood. I don’t remember this sister’s name or really anything about her, but I’m so grateful she taught this!

    • Teresa Bruce

      March 29, 2016

      What a great gift that woman provided you! I wonder what gave her the foresight to reach beyond teaching words and melodies and include technique in her limited time with you. It sounds like her gift, like my art teacher’s, extended far, far beyond her physical presence.

      You’ve reminded me of the woman who taught me how to count the beats and lead music when I was about ten or eleven. I stood in her living room with a handful of other people of various ages, waving my arm(s) in what was probably dangerous enthusiasm. I cannot begin to imagine how many times since then I’ve been the only one in the room who knew (or admitted to knowing) how to lead music.

  3. Beda Kantarjian

    March 29, 2016

    This spoke to me. I was lucky to have my own “Mrs. Ingall” in the fourth grade. Her name was Miss Shropshire. She put the polish on everybody’s artistic work, from writing to art. Her hand lettered booklets printed on mimeograph were our first “published” work. She wrote a script for my lady doll (with boobs) Daphney so I could present a ventriloquist show every Friday. My heart was broken when our family moved near Austin that year. Thankfully, Mother wasn’t happy there either and we moved back after a few months. Back to Miss Shropshire. She is why I scribbled stories during recess and lunch and why I write today. You cannot put a price on a good teacher. I’m so glad you had one, too.

    BTW I LOVE your art! Hope you are still doing it.

    • Teresa Bruce

      March 29, 2016

      Beda, I’m grateful for your Miss Shropshire, too, because it’s through your writing that we met and that I’ve been able to bask in your humor. The value of a good teacher is truly immeasurable.

      Thank you for the kind approval. Most of my (nonverbal) art now is either small enough to fit in the margins of early drafts or large and three-dimensional in my approach to rearranging a room on a shoestring. On occasion I still dabble. 🙂

  4. Darwin

    March 29, 2016

    My Dad. My Mom. My siblings. My Grandparents. Uncles. aunts, cousins. Great Uncles and aunts. Second and third cousins.

    In the first grade I was ambushed by junior racists throwing rocks. Got my first stitches. Dad coaxed my feelings about it out of me and taught me how to be the bigger man, and not become like them.

    Such incidents were not infrequent during my schooling…and sometimes teachers saw… and did nothing. Allowed it all to continue.

    They thought I wasn’t worth the effort.

    Dad and Mom and my entire family showed me that I was.

    Weaponless, my Dad stepped between me and a bear.

    Mom was always sacrificing for us and showing us how much we are loved.

    The whole family worked to make each other feel that way.

    I developed a passion for playing guitar…initially taught by my uncle…at home. I developed a passion for drawing…at home. I lifted weights…at home. Jogged. Read passionately. Writing stories for my own amusement. Danced.

    All starting from home.

    So when ever we moved…my support group came with me.

    There were happy times at school as well…

    Just nothing to compare to the happiness at home.

    • Teresa Bruce

      March 29, 2016

      It sounds as though you grew up with a broad network of caring influences, Darwin. I particularly appreciate the image of your bear-facing father gently coaxing out your young but valid feelings and teaching you “how to be the bigger man, and not become like” those who bullied you.

  5. Nancy Ingle Kiffer

    April 13, 2016

    Dearest Teresa,
    Oh yes Teresa, I remember you! I too have thought of you often with fond memories of your talent, diligence and sweet willingness to try so many mediums. I am so touched you remembered me. I cried as I read your words and saw your art work.

    I am now 71 and living on the Stone Mountain ridge in North Carolina with my husband Dale. I have been retired for 12 years. Years ago you inspired me to focus on what art does for the soul as we all struggle to make clear to ourselves and others what we think and feel. Your very evident talent and effort also helped Mrs. Clark our principal, realize the art program was important twice when my position was cut but restored after parents talked with her.

    As your children are in school and you are working with Arty Facts to give them a volunteer art program, I am sure you inspire others to see the value of art, the most basic human expression for our little ones. Perhaps someday funding will shift a bit and art programs will be restored. Your story alone should give administrators a window into the tender thoughts children carry into adulthood. I am sorry I had no idea you were under such stress. I am only grateful that now as you reveal these thoughts we all will listen and observe more carefully to pick up on the clues children give us to understand their needs. I remain extremely grateful I was some help to you all those years ago.

    On a personal note, I hope we will stay in touch! I would love you and yours to visit with us and play with me in my simple pottery studio anytime. (Airbnb.com Sugar Grove, NC Mountaintop Vistas or https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/8846703)
    Thank you Teresa for thinking of me! I hope to see you again! I truly do believe in you and am forever grateful you believe in me.
    Nancy Ingle (Kiffer)

    • Teresa Bruce

      April 13, 2016

      Words fail me (and that doesn’t happen often).

      I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the positive impact you made on my life and later on my children’s lives (and on their class- and school-mates, too). My children grew up hearing about you. Fellow PTA volunteers over the years heard about your approach to teaching children through art.

      The experiences I had in your classroom flowed into the hands (and hopefully hearts) of many precious little souls.

      I have such great love and appreciation for you — and I’m sorry I didn’t remember the correct spelling of your last name!

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