"Weeds don't die easily!" That's what my mother always said to me when change made the going rough. I thought of the saying as I observed the fields of cotton and milo in the early morning light. Each day on my way to work I have rejoiced as the plants struggled to maturity. I've watched as the lack of rain parched the land and wilted the plants, and I've prayed for rain for the dry-land crops, especially those near our house. What has amazed me are the weeds. Even in this draught, the weeds seem to thrive. What my mother said, still holds true.
I remember a season that put her and her hardiness to the test. It was the last year we lived in Iowa. A teacher, her specialty was elementary, but the 7th grade had gone through two teachers by late November, and she was reassigned to teach a self-contained 7th grade. The boys in that class promptly announced their intention to be rid of her before spring.
They were completely out of control, and my mother, who did not believe in spanking took my grandfather's razor strap to school. One boy in particular, the ring leader, was nearly a foot taller than my Mom and outweighed her be a goodly amount. On her first day in 7th grade he proudly announced that he didn't have to do anything because his Dad was on the school board. In fact, he informed her, he'd never had to do anything in school, and after a day or two my Mom judged that this was probably true. He couldn't read beyond a 2nd grade level, and his other skills came close to matching that as well.
Drugs and depression were not an issue here, but sexuality and control of the classroom were. It was the '50s and these kids were 'rebels without a cause.' My Mother spent hours preparing for those kids. She used the strap rarely and almost entirely early in December, and she used a considerable amount of willpower, love and creativity. The board member's son wanted to drive. He needed a learner's permit. But he couldn't read well enough to pass the drivers test. Mom tossed out the readers and taught reading from the Iowa Driver's Manual and car and truck magazines. She had to spend huge amounts of time on individualized instruction-I think they call that IEP now. She also spent a great deal of time challenging their thinking. She paid them a dollar for every error they found in their texts. She gave them the full benefit of her faith for she believed that no child was a lost cause.
I heard her cry after she thought we were all asleep on many nights that winter, because those students were so hard on her. I heard her question her ability as a teacher, despair of society at large, and be frustrated by the reprimands of her Principal who was worried about the razor strap, her unorthodox methods, and his standing with the board.
Mother risked her career to redeem that class. After school was out we moved to California for my Father's health. We found a new life and she returned to her beloved Kindergarten children in a new school with lots of windows and mostly upwardly mobile middle class kids with a few wealthy kids thrown in, but her health was badly damaged, perhaps it was the stress of that year.
She had developed breast cancer, and underwent surgery and then searing radiation that Fall with a determination that matched her teaching style. Her seventh graders from the year before heard about Mom's surgery. The board member's son, who now had a drivers license, spearheaded a drive and Mom received a get well card from them with $40.00 in it. The simple words inside made her cry. "Mrs. Tally, you were the only teacher we ever had who really cared about us." Of course that was an exaggeration. Other teachers had cared, but none had risked. Those kids knew that my mother loved them. It wasn't the strap that convinced them. It was her willingness to risk her job for them. They learned more than reading, writing, and math that year. They learned that weeds don't die easy.