I often think back on my childhood and realise that everything could have turned out differently, if it weren't for Mr. Durfee.
Don’t we all have that one special teacher who made a difference in our lives? I am starting to think about the different schooling options for my own kids, and all I can hope for, is for them to have a good teacher. In a way it doesn’t matter which school they go to, what really matters is getting that one special teacher…
I started school in the American system in Japan. When I was in 2nd grade, my parents decided to transfer me to a Japanese school. And then at 12 or 13 years old when I was about to go into the 7th grade, my parents moved me back to the American school. When entering back into the American system, the school made me write an exam, to see if I should be entering 6th or 7th grade. I remember that day clearly. You know, kids learn a language extremely quickly, they are like sponges. But they also forget a language extremely quickly. When I went to Japanese school, I practically forgot all of my English. Also when trying to speak English, I had an extremely strong Japanese accent and couldn't even pronounce my own last name, SCHRODER. You don't have that 'R' sound in Japanese…. Anyway, back to the exam - I received this booklet for an exam, and even before the questions started, I was confused….. It asked for my name, date of birth, and if I was male or female, and I had no idea. I remember having to look at the person next to me, and look at his answer…. Ok, so he marked male, so I must be female…. That's how bad my English had become…I had to cheat to know if I was male or female!?!? Needless to say I failed the exam drastically… (I later learned that my exam result was even worse then a first grader!) Next thing I remember sitting in a room with my mom, the principal, and Mr. Durfee. That’s the first time I ever met Mr. Durfee. I guess they were trying to give me a second chance and asked me to read a page from this book they had. The first word was 'The'. I remember making these sounds 'Tttttt', 'Thhhhhhh', 'tehhhhhh'. Mr. Durfee was busy writing something in his notebook, and when I started making these sounds he stopped what he was doing, and looked up at me with total shock. He couldn’t even hide his surprise! There I was, trying to enter the 7th grade, and I couldn't even read the first word on the page….
But somehow I entered the 6th grade (not 7th) and I felt that Mr. Durfee was always watching my back. He told me that I had to come speak to him every Wednesday. I hated going there because I was so shy, and I had such a difficulty speaking with people. But I also later learned that after that exam, the school was ready to reject me and Mr. Durfee saw that awkward intimidated shy girl and faught for me to enter the school. The condition was that he see me every Wednesday and keep an eye on me and monitor my improvement. Mr. Durfee made me do extra speech and writing classes after school every day. I was so embarrassed, having to stay after school in one of the class rooms, and having to repeat “R’, ‘R’, ‘SCRodeRRRRRR’. I just cringed at the thought of some other kid walking by the classroom and hearing me do this embarrassing exercise. That’s how awkward I was as a middle schooler. And kids can be cruel. I often remember this one loud boy at school looking at me and repeating every word I said, imitating my bad accent.
I remember being at one of those school dances. All the popular girls and boys dancing and having a great time. Me in the corner, looking seriously awkward with my shoulders slouched in… Mr. Durfee’s son was in my class. I swear Mr. Durfee made his son come ask me to dance, just so that I felt a part of it. That’s how attentive he was, to recognise me across the room and my hurt feelings. His poor son! Haha! But deep down I will never forget that kind gesture from him AND his son.
In order to build my confidence, Mr. Durfee also told me to join the volleyball team. This was my saviour and thank god Mr. Durfee was the couch of this amazing volleyball team. Through sport (I also joined the swim team) I was able to build the little bit of confidence I needed to get through those difficult years. He encouraged me over and over again to be the best I could be.
I remember writing to Mr. Durfee around 15 years ago. The days before Facebook. I tracked him down and wrote to him to tell him how special he was to me, and how he made a huge difference in my life and I thanked him for that. And told him I never would have made it through without him. He then responded,
‘Thanks for all the kind words. I don't imagine that I made any real difference in your life, but I did see your greatness early on and tried to help you see it too.’
My sister and her family had the chance to visit Mr. Durfee last year in San Francisco (see in picture). I am determined to get there next year to go and see him and give him a big hug and thank him once again for all that he did for me!