“It is our Hester, —the town’s own Hester, —who is so kind to the poor, so helpful to the sick, so comfortable to the afflicted!” – The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter was Mrs. Strickler’s favorite book. Actually, I don’t know if that is true. I would guess her favorite book was whatever she was reading and teaching to her class at the time. I know she made me read that book in English class. I hated every word of it and missed most of the inferences and symbolism (at least the ones that Cliff Notes missed). But I did read it because she told me I had to.
Mrs. Strickler was, in every sense of the word, a teacher. Every connotation, denotation, and inference, she embodied. She was the kind of teacher who never worried about which students liked her. She wasn’t the most popular teacher in school, her classes were certainly not the easiest, and she did not allow for short cuts or excuses (and absolutely no Cliff Notes). Mrs. Strickler demanded her students give her their best and in return she promised to give them hers.
I got a phone call Monday night from my Mom. That morning, Mrs. Strickler had died (my Mom taught with Mrs. Strickler for over 20 years).
After hanging up the phone, my memories wandered back, as moments like these most often prompt, to sitting in her classroom again. A million stories came back to me. Each one, no matter how brief or inconsequential, made more special now. I wanted to remember as many as I could because I thought that in some small way, that would be how I could honor her memory.
Remembering her in a classroom, where she seemed most at home. Where she cared little for teenage angst, rampaging hormones, or immaturity but focused on educating her students. And she did so with a respect and compassion for us that few teachers can do or are able to do anymore.
We made her laugh and she made us read. We tried to use the word ‘very’ enough in our term papers to reach our word limit and she told us to rewrite it. When homework and studying for classes was the last priority any of us had somehow she got us to care about hers. We worked to earn her respect (and our grades) and when we walked in to her class, she had ours.
After graduating, the times I saw Mrs. Strickler were few. Occasionally stopping in to the school to see my Mom, I made it a point to go to her classroom (maybe to be lucky enough to interrupt her reading the Scarlet Letter as some measure of revenge). I would get to see her from time to time at the grocery store or at the gas station. Each time I saw her I was emphatic with my greeting as she welcomed me with open arms.
A brief time walking in to the grocery store, over 8 years ago, was the last time I would see Mrs. Strickler. I would occasionally talk about her with my mom or maybe relay a story about her to my kids. I knew she had been sick. I knew, from what my mom had told me, her prognosis was not good. Yet, despite the time that had gone by from the last time I had seen her, the impact of her lessons and my affection for her never waned.
If you were fortunate enough to spend time in her class, then you will spend a moment remembering Mrs. Strickler because that was the kind of person she was. Each one of us will remember our teacher. We will remember Mrs. Strickler in our own way. How she taught us about lessons, literature units, writing term papers and Nathaniel Hawthorne. How she laughed with us, helped us, how she made us earn our grades, and how she welcomed us with open arms walking in to the grocery store. And when we think of Mrs. Strickler, we will remember how she taught us to give her our best because for 42 years, that’s what she gave to her students.
Rest in Peace Mrs. Strickler.
Though you may be gone, your lessons will not soon be forgotten.