What The Teacher Expected

Of all the emotions that I experienced in February when I got the email from eLectio Publishing stating that they wanted to talk about my manuscript “When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder: Tales from A Mennonite Childhood,” there is one in the mix that you might not have guessed: relief.

Fifth graders from all across the Manheim Central School District recognized by our teachers for our writing ability participated in a special workshop, the details of which I have completely forgotten in the ensuing 33 years. I have a vague memory of the delight of being chosen, of getting to attend an important activity that not all of the students could go to, of kids I didn’t know from other schools and unfamiliar teachers hovering over us. I found it all terribly exciting and loved the recognition of having been singled out as extra special.

Although I’ve long lost the details, what I took away from that activity was a green-covered spiral-bound book of writings we produced; printed and presented to each of us with the signatures of the teachers who lead it and words of encouragement for our budding talents. And I saved it. For a very long time. In spite of all the times I almost threw it away—I didn’t.

But I wish Miss Carol Steiner had used a different word. “Never stop writing,” she penned in curly cursive. “Someday I expect to see you as a published author, Diana.”

If you’ve read “When the Roll Is Called A Pyonder” you know that the little Mennonite version of me was no stranger to adult expectations and none of them were optional. You to go church on Sunday. You don’t lie. You eat the potato soup. Keep your legs down. Recite your Bible verses before dinner. Be nice to your sisters. I’m not saying this makes me unusual; I’m just saying. When you are a child and an adult tells you that they expect something of you, this is serious business. Failure to meet these expectations in some cases equals disobedience and in many cases will produce punishment.

There’s another meaning to the word expect. It doesn’t so much imply a requirement as hope or an anticipation of what one imagines the future may hold. You expect a baby. You expect that May will be warmer than April. You expect to pass the test you have studied for. Or not.

I imagine that the second meaning of expect is the one Miss Carol Steiner had in mind when she wrote that in my book. But those words hung over my head glowering like an imperative for thirty some years. They were supposed to be words of encouragement, not of admonition. I told myself that over and over again. But they scowled at me from behind their green cover in the back of my mind. No matter how deeply I buried that book in the pile, no matter how far I moved away or how many other expectations from my childhood dissolved, those words stood there with their arms crossed waiting for me to comply: I expect to see you as a published author, young lady.

Then ten years passed.

Then twenty.

Then thirty.

And I was very disillusioned by this failure. Not that I had stopped writing. But I wasn’t a published author. Not that I had really tried. But clearly, as I was not even able to meet the expectations of an elementary school teacher, I had grown up to be profoundly disappointing. Or she was wrong about me. Or she meant the other kind of expect. But that didn’t make me feel better at all. That stupid book just sat there, taunting me.

So when eLectio contacted me proposing to publish “When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder,” an enormous weight dissolved from the center of my chest and a tidal wave of relief washed over me.

Whew. I made the grade.

I went looking last night through the boxes in my shed for that green book. I wanted to check which grade I was actually in and find out what Miss Carol Steiner’s real name might have been before I throw that thing away once and for all. I couldn’t find it anywhere. Maybe I already tossed it, after eLectio called and I finally felt absolved. Could I have purged a skeleton like that from my closet and not remember it? Or maybe I just put it away a little better last time. Maybe I’ll come across it someday tucked in the box with my first stuffed animal and that Children’s Bible with color pictures and the bead necklace Aunt Joyce brought me from Africa.

It’s kind of ironic that if I’ve thrown it away it boomeranged right back and if I still have it I don’t even know where.

One thought on “What The Teacher Expected

  1. It’s funny how different things stick with us and effect us. I’m sure you’re teacher meant them as words of encouragement. That because your writings were so good that she believed she’d see your name on the cover of a book one day. And well…she was right. Here you are.

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