Washington High School, East Chicago, 1982
Mrs. Anderson looked at me with an “I don’t know about you” grin as she shook her head. The class was still laughing about me asking if I could just bring napkins for Culture Day. I had no idea what to bring because it was Spanish class and I was the only non-Latino IN said class, other than Mrs. Anderson…
But that’s what I found most interesting about Myra Anderson, our 10th grade Spanish teacher. In my naivete, I assumed that the teacher of such a class would or should have been a member of the Latino community (hey, don’t judge – it’s 80s stupidity – not that many people today don’t subscribe to the same nonsensical ideology). I found it fascinating that the instructor for such a course was an African American. But then again, by that logic, Mrs. Comer (another Black woman) should not have been teaching French class.
Just goes to show you how the mind of an ignorant teen works. But she was prepared for it. She’s one of the many great faculty members that dealt with a myriad of strange thoughts, words, actions, learning capacities and other peculiarities at Washington High school. Any high school, for that matter.
To be perfectly honest, I LOVED the fact that she chose that as a field of study and ultimately, a career path. It was one of the first unspoken lessons that she taught me: Never restrict someone to any lane when you don’t know their driving ability, speed or destination. But in that same vein, there was more to her than just a mastery and command of the Spanish language. She was adept at a great many things, one of which, I learned when she and I got into a playful debate about a math formula, totally unrelated to the course.
It seems I was always up to something in her class. I’m sure she still remembers the time her supervisor came to visit. As you know, one of the ways a supervisor determines the effectiveness of someone’s teachings is by drilling one of their students. I’m sure you all know who he walked up to…
He looked around the room, spotted and walked right up to me.
He smiled and said, “Hola, ¿cómo estás?” (Hello, how are you?)
“Me llamo Kenny.” (My name is Kenny.)
The class erupted in laughter, knowing I knew the correct answer, but was being my usual puckish self.
Looking back, I don’t think she found the humor in it, present company considered.
Thankfully, she never held that against me (at least I don’t think she did – although I’m still trying to figure out who kicked me down the flight of stairs, located just outside of her classroom door, days later).
Mrs. Anderson believed in her students, our school and our community. She constantly made clear her desire that we aspire towards greatness. She never allowed anyone to give up on themselves, because she never gave up on them. And even after you moved on to the next grade, she always checked on your status.
I think that’s why I was so reluctant to move up to Mrs. Candelaria’s class for the next level of Spanish. No disrespect to her at all. I just loved Mrs. Anderson so much, beyond the crush I had on her (hey, I wasn’t the only one).
Mrs. Anderson possessed a wealth of knowledge and wore of coat of sound judgement, wise beyond her years. She was thoughtful, insightful, witty, compassionate and understanding. She was one of those exceptional teachers who greeted the class with a bright smile at the beginning of the period and an equally kind word as they departed.
Her charismatic personality extended far beyond the confines of the school. If you ran into her in the street, she displayed the exact same loving spirit, dispelling any myths that she might be your typical “geographical” teacher (one way here, another way there).
And speaking of “on the street”, I did actually run into her once, years after graduation. It was during that hug and brief conversation that I updated her on my life and adventures. I expressed to her the type of man I was hoping to be. One that she could be proud of. In response, she looked me right in the eyes and with total conviction said, “Kenneth, I’ve ALWAYS been proud of you, because I know the man you are and always HAVE been. You and he just need to meet in the middle.”
THAT is the kind of teacher I had. That, my friends, is the kind of support this world needs.
Which is why I’m giving her her flowers now, so she knows…
I could go on with more stories about my time with her at Washington, but I’d only end up looking like the ultimate test of patience and cautionary tale for anyone pursuing a career in education.
I would, however, like to close out by sharing what I once said/sent to her on FB on her birthday:
“Sending out my highest love, respect and gratitude to Myra Anderson, Spanish Teacher, confidante, guide and friend. When I think of how influential you were to me, in such a little bit of time, that is just a bold reminder of how incredible God is. He knew what I needed. He knew WHO I needed. Then He gave me you. Thank you for being the mentor and inspiration that you’ve been to me and so many others who were fortunate enough to walk the halls of Washington High. Thank you for your love. Thank you for your laughter. Thank you for your patience. I laugh every day when the workers compliment me on how fluently I speak when I communicate in Spanish (the seven phrases that I actually remember – lol). Now, the challenge is on for me to communicate effectively because the Latino community make up a good 40% of our workforce. About 60% come from Africa, so I’m REALLY having a ball, speaking Amharic, Ghanaian, Tigrinya, Swahili, etc. I can never truly thank you for supporting and believing in me as you have. What I CAN do is thank God in my highest praise, for giving us you on this day. God bless you…”
Thank you, Mrs. Anderson. Thank you for everything! I love you.
Gracias, Señora Anderson. ¡Gracias por todo! Te quiero.
…about my Culture Day statement regarding what I would bring to the potluck party. What I said was —– it’s not fun, me trying to bring something, representing my culture.
I can see it now…
“Who brought the enchiladas?”
“Who brought the flautas?”
“Who brought the grits?”
Thank you for reading.
…and no, I was never kicked down a flight of stairs…
Next up on Teacher Feature: Larry Lane!
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My 10 and 11th grade Spanish 1 and 2 was a African American female. Mrs. Hopkins 25 years later I met her daughter in Columbus at Chicago Stepping Class. She said she retired but was still tutoring students.
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I think it’s awesome to see African Americans teaching other languages. Thanks for reading, Lisa!