I learned in fourth grade what it was to be unpopular.
"You talk like you're 42," a classmate said, sneering.
That year I continued to love learning, but I began to dread school. That dread did not abate for seven years.
Decades later, I remember with gratitude small kindnesses I experienced that helped me surmount my loneliness.
Almost universally, they came from my teachers.
Mrs. Horan was my teacher in fourth and sixth grades. She talked to me about what happened when kids got mean. She wiped away tears.
Mr. Cooke, my high school English teacher, told me often that I could write. I still have essays and stories I wrote for his class.
I had a truly inspiring history teacher in high school. When I finished his course, he began recommending books I still remember reading. I devoured them.
Do we have any idea how important teachers are?
Jane Mucci does. She wrote me about teachers she remembered.
In eighth grade, she said, her English teacher once plucked a stray thread off her blouse.
"I thought that was a kindness," Mucci wrote, "and I have a strong memory of it. ... Being a typical eighth-grader, my (self-)esteem ... was quite low. I felt alive and noticed. It made a difference."
One day Mrs. Jones, an older and stricter teacher, walked straight toward her. It turned out she was coming over to praise Mucci for a beautifully braided bread she had made for her home economics class.
"I remember Mrs. Jones for that compliment," Mucci wrote.
When school let out for summer, Mucci went to say goodbye to Mrs. Wertz, her home economics teacher. She brought her teacher a thank-you card and a little gift.
"She was very touched, and told me she was thinking of quitting teaching, but my card and gift may have changed her mind."
Around the holiday season when Mucci was in second grade, her teacher, Sister Teresa, wrote the lyrics to "Deck the Halls" on a blackboard, complete with musical notation.
Sister Merita Marie, Mucci's first-grade teacher, came into the room for some reason, and before long the two sisters were arguing politely about the song.
They differed on the lyrics, debating whether the refrain was supposed to be " tra-la-la-la-la" or " fa-la-la-la-la."
"To this day, I get a kick out of that," Mucci wrote.
Please let me know if you have such memories to share.
Teachers will thank you for remembering the teachers in your and your children's lives. Many of them specialize in small acts of kindness.