I wasn’t involved in anything extracurricular my freshman year of high school.
I was pretty shy and just didn’t feel any connection to my high school yet.
School was just a place I had to go.
But my sophomore year, I stepped out a little and enrolled in the journalism class.
The journalism students at our school were responsible for chunking out a bi-weekly school newspaper, as well as the class yearbook.
I was thinking of a career as a writer – still am, by the way – and creating a yearbook sounded like fun. So why not?
We learned about fonts, how to set and meet deadlines, page layout, and editing, editing, editing. (All skills I still use today; especially on this blog)
The entire journalism department at my high school was just a handful kids in one 55 minute, daily class, taught by Ms. Clark.
Ms. Clark was about 5’2″, with huge glasses that covered most of her experienced face……and a “chili-bowl” haircut that outlined the rest of it. It was hard to gage her exact age. At 15, everyone over 30 seems old, and she didn’t really bother hiding behind a lot of make-up. But I would say she was probably just a little north of 45. She only wore pants…and occasionally vests, channeling all the androgynous energy of a youthful Linda Hunt. She had been an actual working journalist for the associated press and traveled around the world with her best-friend/room-mate, Pam. Her travel stories, and there were many of them, usually ended with the 2 ladies trying to find an American baseball game on a transistor radio in whatever mudd-hutt they were stuck in at the time.
This was her first year of teaching at my high school. Ms. Clark was much more of a “doer” than a teacher. But fate had landed her in Flower Mound, Texas where she dusted off her teaching certificate and tried her hand at relating to 30-35 hormonal 15-year-olds 6 times a day.
Of the 15 kids in my class, I was the only one wanting to take pictures….so naturally,
Head Photographer I was so deemed.
Ms. Clark had a professional camera of her own that I could borrow. It was a big intimidating one – pretty similar, in fact, to the digital that one I have now. She showed me how the shutter speed works to let in more, or less, light; and how to use the tripod to keep it steady. (I’ve never taken a true photography class, so if you like the pictures that I take now, I can assure you they are the result of Ms. Clark’s wise instruction). I remember that while she stood over me, watching me load the film by myself, she placed a hand lightly on my shoulder. Not at all in a “Bad Touch” sort of way that teachers have to be fearful of nowadays…….It was comforting; I knew it meant that she was proud of me.
I specialized in taking pictures of just my friends, but Ms. Clark wasn’t having that. She told me that the school yearbook had a responsibility to represent every student, and not just the popular, Arian ones. (I had to get a dictionary later and look up the word Arian) From that day forward, I made a concentrated effort to take pictures of classmates that I didn’t know. (Especially the non-Arian ones) The camera forced me to introduce myself to them, I needed to know names for the captions after all, and that broke me just a little bit more out of my shyness comfort zone.
I think that may have been Ms. Clark’s plan all along.
Thumbing through that 30 year-old yearbook last week, I can still tell the candid pictures that I took.
Apparently, I have a style.
At our journalism Christmas party we played “Secret Santa”……..and as luck would have it, I drew Ms. Clark. I remember that I bought her a crystal-cut glass jewelry box and filled it with gummy bears; her favorite treat. But when one of the other girls in the class was left without a gift, Ms Clark gave her the gift from me, so that she wouldn’t feel left out. I was more than a little upset that Ms. Clark wouldn’t get to enjoy the gift that I specifically picked just for her. But I knew that she would get more joy knowing that someone didn’t have to go without one. That’s the kind of woman that she was.
One time, when I said that I would try to do something, she replied, “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” (My jaw hit the floor) She actually quoted Yoda to me. Can you believe that?
Ms Clark’s camera was always with me. It was my responsibility to document football games, pep rallies, and general school mayhem. But one day I was goofing off and the camera slipped off my desk, and with a crunch, it smacked the floor. Bits of glass rained out of the hole that used to be a lens when I picked it up and there was now a huge dent in the front.
I stopped breathing.
Normally, I would have denied anything about breaking it and just claimed that I found it that way, but I knew that Ms. Clark deserved more than that. With tears welling-up in the corners of my eyes, I took it to her, told her that I broke it, and offered to pay for it. (I’m not sure what the camera was worth, but I made about $40 a week working after school at a dry cleaners and that money just went towards Swatch watches and Molly Ringwald posters.)
But Ms. Clark wouldn’t have it. She looked me square in the eyes and said, “It’s just a camera.”
These were her bullet points on the situation:
- I hadn’t done it intentionally.
- The camera was merely a thing.
- Things can be replaced.
She hugged me and never mentioned it again.
Her logic knocked me on my ass.
She was the first teacher I’d had that knew there were great things in me; something no other teacher before her had ever done. (And honestly, only one other teacher since then)
I’m not really sure where Ms. Clark is now,
……….but there’s always a tiny bit of her that’s always with me.