The oddest person to influence my life was Elizabeth Sorrells. She was my seventh grade teacher at East Lake Jr. High in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Her classroom was the last door on the right of the first floor from the main entrance.
A portly woman in sack-like dresses with wavy thinning hair slicked down with oil on her head, she was the strictest teacher of my life. She would have made any Marine Corps drill sergeant proud with her strict class discipline, but she could not hide the love for teaching and for her students.
I remember her making the class bully Randy Metcalf tie back his “beatle bangs” with string while the rest of us quaked. I remember her calling me out of history class to sternly ask why I would not transfer to her afternoon “block” class—she taught two blocks daily of english, writing and current events—where the smartest students of the seventh grade were invited (this was the time in America when intelligence in education was recognized and rewarded) and me replying that I could not quit band because it was only offered at eighth period.
She scoffed at my reply and said “suit yourself,” and I remember trembling from that encounter for the rest of the day.
I remember her grading down a perfect current events paper from a 100 to an 89 because my penmanship was not the accepted standard cursive writing. She enforced standard penmanship and stressed that curlicues and flourishes should only be added once one had mastered the standard rules and they were NEVER allowed in her class.
I remember holding my breath as she dramatically took the chalk in her fleshy hand and began to write the honor roll and star roll (straight A’s) names on the green board.
I remember catching my breath as I would longingly admire Suzie Ezell’s legs and the incredibly sexy inch or so of the top of her stocking showing in her “70’s miniskirt. But I regress.
Mrs. Sorrells was one of those people who would never, ever praise you personally, but would extol your worth to everyone else. At awards day (yep, a novel thought, awards day) at the end of my seventh grade year she knew I was to win the Current Events award, the Daughter of American Revolution History Award, the Bible award (yep, Bible award), and a few others, so she called my Mom and told her she should be at that awards day.
My Mom and Dad could rarely attend my functions or concerts because they were busy working to put bread on our table. But somehow Sergeant Sorrells persuaded my Mom to be at awards day, and I remember to this day her being there as my name was called over and over again.
I traveled back to East Lake Junior High quite a few years later to say thanks for her inspiration and influence. Mrs. Sorrells gave me a thirst for learning that I have yet to quench. Because of her tutelage, I won a full academic scholarship to college…and much more.
The seventh grade was one of only two years that my parents left the country and the mountains to try to eek out a living in the “city.” Those two years of quality education and loving and gifted teachers changed my life forever.
Question: Who was the oddest person to influence YOUR life?
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