Farewell, a short story by: Me

I arrived at school early that morning, as I did every morning. I usually played basketball in the gym before school, but on this particular morning I decided not to play. Instead, I went to my first period class to socialize with the teacher and anyone else who happened to be there.
As I walked into the empty classroom, I ran each of my hands down along two perfectly straight rows of desks. When I got to my seat at the front of the class, I dropped my backpack in the chair and inhaled deeply, savoring the musty smell of chalk dust and books. I love the smell of those two things. I’ve often wondered at my love of those two smells, it’s as if they were ingrained in me from birth. I can’t quite trace back my memories of them both. I’ve always loved books and reading, something I think I inherited from my dad, and I’ve always loved learning and the teachers who instilled that love of learning in me. I had grown to love that class just as I loved the smell of chalk dust and books. It was an English class and Mr. Spencer was my teacher.
At the front of the classroom stood a life size, cardboard cutout of Deanna Troy from Star Trek. Mr. Spencer was in love with Deanna Troy. A Trekky to the core, he made everyone well aware of his love for this “Doctor.” Our whole first period class had chipped in to buy the cutout for him for his birthday. It was my idea, and I must say, I was rather proud. It took a lot of effort for a group of middle school students to pull off a gift like that, but it was well worth it. We all knew that our gift to him was his favorite, even though (to make it clear he didn’t play favorites) he would never admit it.
Mr. Spencer was my favorite teacher. He was a bit odd at times. He was at his prime in the late seventies, and proud of it. He brought his Carol King record to class one day for us to listen to, “in the name of poetry.” He was legally blind and suffered from a disease called Retinitis Pigmentosa, which caused him to have tunnel vision and migraine headaches. He was a confirmed bachelor, caring deeply for a group of stereotypically nerdy kids and we loved him for it. He was dedicated and intelligent. He had a stern, yet friendly way about him. He, and a group of teachers whom he directed, made up the staff of the Accelerated Learning Program for our district. They were a group of dedicated teachers, devoted to the education and enlightenment of a select group of advanced adolescents. They all worked hard to make school enjoyable, different and challenging for every student in each of their classes. In fact, teaching was their life. Not one of the four ALP teachers was married, and they dedicated many nights, weekends, and holidays to us- their kids.
Mr. Spencer walked to his pulpit at the front of the class, sipping coffee quietly from his mug.
“Good morning Mr. Spencer!”
“Good morning Becca,” he replied.
“Did you know that you’re my favorite teacher?” I asked cheerfully.
“Oh Becca, you don’t have to say that.”
“I know, but you are!”
“You DON’T have to say that.” He stubbornly answered back.
“Well you are!” I said, putting in the final word.
He sighed and went about preparing for the morning class. Other students drizzled in, and after our usual morning chatter, class began. Mr. Spencer had an announcement to make. I thought we were about to get a lecture, but he said something quite different from what I expected.
“Today will be my last day,” he said, “because of my failing eyesight and persistent headaches, I can no longer teach full time.”
Good I thought, at least he can be here part of the time, but then he went on. He explained that he would not be teaching or overseeing ALP’s any longer. A new teacher would be in the next day, he would introduce her to us and leave. He had secured a part time job at the elementary school nearby and he would teach there as his health permitted. I was stunned and hurt that he would leave us so suddenly. I tried to understand his pain and his disease and what must have been a very difficult decision. I just hadn’t seen it coming. Someone in class asked him to stay. We all felt the same and echoed the request. He had made his decision though, and of course, couldn’t stay.
Through the rest of the day, I heard plans of a going away party to be held in his honor before class the following morning. I was angry and refused to take part, not wanting to condone his leaving. After school I confided in my mom, and told her that Mr. Spencer wasn’t going to be teaching anymore. She listened, but I didn’t feel she understood what a big deal this was to me. I started thinking, and realized that I wouldn’t be seeing Mr. Spencer every day anymore, he was leaving for good. I suddenly felt bad for not wanting to participate in his going away party. I had to let him know how much I appreciated him. I scrambled to find something to show him my thanks. Mom gave me a card to write in, but I wanted to give him something more, so she took me to the store where we picked out an official Star Trek communicator as a gift.
I did show up to the going away party the next morning, and I gave Mr. Spencer my card and gift. He received many tokens of thanks that morning, so many, that I never knew if he liked my gift to him, because he was there one day and gone the next.
When class began Mr. Spencer introduced us to Mrs. Swensen. Mrs. Swensen had already taught at our school and was leaving a group of normal students to come teach us. From the very start I had negative feelings toward this woman who would take the place of my favorite teacher. In a way, I felt sorry for her too. I knew that it would be hard to start teaching a class mid-year, especially following in the footsteps of such a well loved teacher. Instead of starting brand new, she was taking over. So, I let go of the negative and tried to give our new teacher a chance.
Mrs. Swensen was a strict, straight as an arrow, perfectionist. She had a no nuisance way of grading and made it clear to us from the beginning that she meant business. I’ve always been somewhat of a rebel and to me it seemed like Mrs. Swensen was just asking for it. We, as a class changed our ways for her, and in return, I expected a little bit of compassion. Compassion was not on the agenda. It got to the point in class where the mention of Mr. Spencer brought on a lecture and stern words. I’ll admit, an eighth grade group of students isn’t the easiest to deal with, but we were people just the same. It was at that point that Mrs. Swensen and I started to clash. I stopped turning in my assignments on time causing a slip in my grades, which in turn kindled my dislike for her. I could get mad at her not only for being unfair, but for my low grades as well. I still wrote with passion and I loved the work I did in her class. That didn’t stop me from failing, however. Looking back, I think it was my way of trying to show that I didn’t care. The problem was- I did care. I cared a lot.
Within those tough months, a lot happened. Another close teacher of mine, who was a teacher in the ALP program, lost her battle with cancer. There was nothing I could do, except watch as she slowly died. Mrs. Harper was our literature teacher. She was passionate and unique, constantly trying to get her students to think beyond what they had always been taught. She was harsh at times, but her love for us always showed through. She had an open door policy to the back room in her class and if any of us ever needed to talk, we knew we could find privacy and a caring ear there. We called it Harper’s Haven.
I used Harper’s Haven to talk to her about my first true love. Middle School life is all about drama, and I was deep in it. My boyfriend was a talented, misguided, extremely good looking guy, who was a year older than me in school. He was a football player, actor, drug addict, gang member, but he was the love of my life. He kissed me at Lagoon and won me a football! He selected Unchained Melody on the juke box and asked me to dance in the middle of a department store! It doesn’t get much more romantic than that.
I’m the oldest of five children and I was definitely doing my part to break in Dad. Dad is an expert at drawing the line, seeing black and white, good and bad, and letting me know where I stand. He would not tolerate this boy in my life… but I was in love! There were hours of fights and crying and nights when I locked myself in my closet because I felt there was no where else to go. My dad was questioning my integrity and I had never felt that from him before. I viewed him as close minded and overprotective. He saw himself as protector and defender of his innocent, naive and loving daughter.
With all of this going on, I failed my English class. Failing was one thing that was not permitted in ALP’s, and I was forced to leave the program. I was left with two choices: I could stay at my current school and attend regular classes with a different group of kids, or I could go to my home school- the one by my house and attend classes there, with the kids I would go to high school with. I chose to go to my home school and leave Midvale Middle behind. It was a hard decision and one I didn’t like to think about. My last day at Midvale was there before I could fully comprehend my decision. I announced to my classmates and teachers that I was leaving that very day. As I went from class to class, saying goodbye and getting my teachers to sign me out, my friends cried and I cried too. It was a tough goodbye. One of the remaining original ALP teachers at the school told us that this was the beginning of the end. It was good preparation. There would be many goodbyes in the near future. We would all be moving on to high school. I was just leaving a bit earlier than planned. In reality, we had been preparing all year whether we wanted to or not. Mr. Spencer, Mrs. Harper, and now I had been there one day, and gone the next. We knew all too well how hard goodbye’s are.
As I look back on everything now, I realize that I learned a lot that year. I know I needed those experiences to grow. I’ll never regret the choices I made, because that’s what life’s about: loving and learning through hard times and changes.

5 thoughts on “Farewell, a short story by: Me

  1. And with all this in the past you truly are an amazing person! You are right! There is nothing to regret because with you leaving your old school I found the greatest lifelong friend that I will ever have!-Shannon

  2. You sure have a gift for writing. I loved your story and I think anyone who lived through junior high will get it. Thanks for sharing!

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