THE WORST BEST SCHOOL YEAR OF MY LIFE
This is my grade school. I went there from kindergarten through 8th grade. I had many good teachers, even a few great ones. One year stands out from the rest. It was the worst year of my life. And so I owe it everything.
My 4th grade teacher’s name was Miss
Headblad. As with a Charles Dickens character, I probably don’t need to tell you any more than that. She made us copy entries from an old encyclopedia. I can’t remember if this was
supposed to be education or punishment. Probably both. I had no friends in the
class. They all got sent to a brand new school on the other side of town. The
kids who were not my friends remained.
Everyone gets bullied. Even bullies have been
made miserable by other humans. I now know that what happened to me was much
milder than what happened to others. But at the time, I seemed to be the only
one in my class who was targeted. The school bus ride was the worst part of my
day. And when the ride ended, my main tormentor got off at my stop too. We were
neighbors. We had been friends. That made it worse.
To avoid her – I took the long way home through the woods.
I scrambled down the side of the ravine, walked along the creek, and meandered among the trees until I was ready to come up again in the safety of my own back yard. Ready to answer my mom's question. "How was school?" Fine.
Because at that point I was fine. Being in the woods had comforted me. It still does. I was by myself, but I wasn’t alone. There were stories to be found in each hollow log. I had space to examine my feelings. To wonder why people acted the way they did. And eventually to imagine the feelings of others.
Fourth grade was the worst year of my life. But in that year, I learned the power of empathy and endurance. I learned that nature will nurture. I learned that people won't always be kind. That was okay. I learned I could escape into stories––created by me or by others.
And I didn't copy any of that out of an encyclopedia.
Jane Kelley was inspired by her hours in that woods to write her first novel, NATURE GIRL.