Miss Mac.

For the month of April, I am participating in the Blog A Day Challenge for educators. All prompts are provided by Meredith Towne (@BklynMeredith), an educator from New York.

I once wrote about my senior English teacher, and how she unknowingly changed my life. I searched my blog for a post about the other high school teacher who influenced me in so many ways, and I couldn’t find one. I’m shocked by this, because I’m often nostalgic for her. And when I learned of her passing three years ago, I can’t believe I didn’t blog about her.

Then again, given what she did for me, I’m not all that surprised. Feeling her loss may have made writing about her too hard at that time.

I moved to Montana at the beginning of my junior year of high school, and one of the first tasks with registration was auditioning for the choir program. Through a serendipitous set of connections, I actually heard a recording of the choir before the move, and did not expect to make the choir. But Miss Mac, as everyone called her, placed me in Chanteur Choir–the top choir in the school–and I enjoyed two blissful years as her student.

After a month-long teachers’ strike ended, Miss Mac had an alto-sized hole to fill in the show choir. I auditioned and made it. Fun fact: I waited until November to tell Miss Mac that I could play the piano. I didn’t want to be stuck playing the piano for choirs, as I did through junior high and high school in Nebraska. Montana and Miss Mac gave me a chance to sing.

Miss Mac, at first glance, appeared to be bristly and a bit scary. But she loved her students, and provided us with myriad opportunities to perform. Now that I’m a teacher, I have a deeper appreciation of the sacrifices she made for us. Every year, we went on a choir retreat to Lincoln, Montana–still one of my favorite places on earth. There we would spend a weekend bonding, becoming a choir family, and learning new and challenging music. She made sure we participated in choral collaborations around the state, even if it meant loading us on busses and driving four hours to Billings–and arranging housing for us (we did not stay in hotels there).

Every spring we went on a tour. My junior year, we spent several days in Calgary, with a side trip to Banff. The entire choir–all 47 of us–in Canada. By comparison, later this month I will drive four students to Norfolk, Nebraska for state journalism. I am sure we will have a great time, but even the logistics of arranging travel and lodging for me and four students has been time-consuming. How did Miss Mac do it?

I often think of her when I am pushing a student to do what she doesn’t think she can, because Miss Mac often pushed me beyond what I thought I could do. District Music Contest my senior year, I was involved in so many performances (vocal solo, duet, quartet, trio, double octet, piano solo, plus accompanying a handful of friends on their solos) that I nearly broke. She reassured me I could handle it.

I think of her when I get wind that a student is convinced I don’t like him. I always thought she didn’t like me all that much. I could be lazy, because I had just enough raw talent to get by. I never got picked for solos, and I always just felt like I was white noise in her choirs.

On the night of our final concert my senior year, she presented a handful of awards. The Musicianship Award was the highest possible honor. I was certain my friend Jenn was going to get it–she had a gorgeous voice and had slayed Guinevere in our production of “Camelot.” So I was completely not paying attention as Miss Mac described the accomplishments of the winner, and the boy standing next to me squeezed my hand and whispered out of the side of his mouth, “It’s you! It’s you!”

I looked at him, confused, and by that time, the audience was applauding and the boy was shoving me off the risers and down to Miss Mac, who was waiting with the award and a hug.

Miss Mac and I wrote letters to each other while I was at BYU, letters I still have and read occasionally. The last time I saw her was in 2001, when I drove up to Great Falls for a quick visit. We sat in a park and chatted–about what I don’t even remember, but I’m not sure it matters. I just wanted her to know I was teaching and that I loved her and missed her.

I try to be like Miss Mac because even though at first she scared me, and I often thought she didn’t like me, I never once doubted that she loved me and all of her students. I can only hope I am keeping her legacy alive in my own career.


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