Daily Affirmation

The best things in life are free.
The second best are very expensive.
- Coco Chanel

Friday, September 24, 2010

Betty Ann Friedman - making believers of the 7th grade

We've had another writing assignment from Jen of Denton's Sanatorium.  You can read about it here  and you should also go to her blog to read everyone's homework.  I thought about who I could write about - I've had so many heroes in my life -  folks who have gone the extra mile for me, and many who did me great service even when they didn't realize it.  This one's for Betty Ann.
I was in 7th grade at McPherson Junior High.  I was shy, with gorilla hairy legs that I wasn't allowed to shave.  (I did anyway.)  I was dying to wear white go-go boots or granny boots.  We were in love with all things from England (specifically Carnaby Street!) and San Francisco/hippy-ish.  I had a heavy heeled walk that wore down one side of the heels of my shoes and I considered myself lucky that I didn't have to wear taps on them like I did in 6th grade.  (I'd learned to walk on my toes so the taps wouldn't *tap*)  I wore glasses and had braces.  In short, I was an awkward geek trying to figure out who I was.
There was a class called CORE that was a sort of English and World History class combined.  The teacher was Betty Ann Friedman.  Mrs. Friedman was from Georgia.  A Steel Magnolia.  She had short blonde hair, and was like a drill sergeant.  We were all afraid of her for about two weeks.  She had a fierce temper and didn't stand for any nonsense - not that I gave her any.  We soon learned that she demanded our best, but when we gave it, she would give her all in return.  She had a round foam pad that she would use to pound her head on the blackboard when we were particularly stupid.  She was sarcastic and snarky.  We adored her.
I had (and still have) a friend that dates from 6th grade.  Marion.  I thought she was the most beautiful girl I'd ever seen, and she was (and IS) the coolest and best friend I'll ever have.  But at some point in that 7th grade year we got into a silly argument.  She had one of those white blouses with ruffly sleeves that in the 60's were soooo Carnaby Street.  I loved it.  My mom wasn't one to buy into fads so I didn't have anything like it.  And I was jealous.  So I told her I didn't like it. * I know... so mean.*  Marion didn't even bat an eye.  She looked me from underneath her super long eyelashes in her cool, offhand way, and said "You're just jealous."  And I was... so, so jealous.  And she wouldn't talk to me for a few days.  I was miserable, especially knowing I deserved it.  But Betty Ann noticed.  She asked me in her gruff manner with that southern accent what was up.  When I told her she just shook her head and said "Don't worry.  It won't last."  I guess it didn't take a genius to see that it was just a silly kid fight, but the relief and comfort I felt from having her support was huge.
Later on in the year, there were elections for the next year's class officers.  Betty Ann wouldn't rest until I ran for office - I think it was for Secretary-Treasurer.  I didn't want to - I'd rather have pulled out my eyelashes.  So she showed up at my house.  MY HOUSE.  In my living room.  Talking to my mother on our living room couch.  She did not take "No" for an answer.  The next thing I knew I was running for office and making posters, and writing a speech.  And I won.  Son of a biscuit - I WON.  It was a heady experience to know I could work through my shyness and fear, and succeed.  Thanks to her, I've done it many times since.  Betty Ann never doubted me for a second.  Never once questioned it.  And that's when I began to believe in myself.
Marion and I went back once to see her after we were in High School.  I think it made her happy to see us, although I'm sure it's odd to send silly 14 year old girls on their way to high school, and when they come back they are young women and very different from the little girls that you used to know.  But maybe not.  I imagine there is still a little glimmer, a small slice of that essence of ourselves that is always there from beginning to end, making us as recognizable as babies as we are at 99.
I don't know where Betty Ann Friedman is now, or if she's even still alive.  But somewhere, a tough gal from Georgia is holding forth, giving someone needed direction, even as she pounds her head on a foam pillow against a blackboard.  She's taking names and standing for no sass.  She expected the best from us, and somehow we managed to give it to her, surprising ourselves most of all.

PS: I wish I had a picture of me in 7th grade.  Oh, the visual... it would give this story so much punch.  On the other hand, sometimes things are better off forgotten. 


  1. I saw this assignment over at Jen's blog and I think it is a fabulous idea!
    I love your story. What an incredible teacher to see a shy, young girl and help her develop and blossom - not taking no for an answer. Those are the best teachers in the world - I can see why you loved her!
    I think the foam that she pounded her head against is hilarious!

  2. Great post. I can't imagine a teacher doing that today, can you? People would think it was weird.
    And am I going to see you next week?
    I ran into Katie at a wedding reception tonight!

  3. She sounds like my kind of gal- tough as nails and sweet as a peach. I'm glad she got you to come out of your shell, and be brave, and WIN for crepes sake!

  4. Great post, Great story. Love learning little things about your life.

  5. Isn't it amazing how teachers can stay in our memories for a lifetime? They don't get paid much, which really drives me crazy, but they touch our lives in ways they probably (sadly) don't even realize.

    My sister is a teacher, and I hope her students will let her know (if not now, someday) what she has meant to them.

    And I hope Betty Friedman gets to read this, one way or another, here or there...


  6. A teacher like that can change a child's life - give her a sense of herself from the reflection in the teacher's eye. We're both luck to have wonderful female teachers!

  7. I'm chuckling as I read this. I DO remember our silly fight, but I didn't remember what it was about. I apologize for being such a brat! Thank you so much for taking me down memeory lane. Mrs. Friedman was a great teacher.


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