Sunday, April 14, 2013

One Teacher’s Legacy (re: Middle School Survival 101)

Mrs. Babick was anti-bullying before it was cool to be anti-bullying. We were all just trying to survive middle school, in all of its awkward painful gawkiness. Even now, when we laugh, and cringe, about the cliques of our pasts, we realize we were all so insecure that even the cool kids didn’t know they were cool.

Somehow, none of that seemed to matter in Mrs. Babick’s room. She didn’t notice that sometimes the preps wore track pants, and that was totally poser of them (unless the person was your friend, and you had told them that you thought it’d be okay if they opted out of tapered jeans that day). She didn’t care that the band kids all wanted to sit together in her classroom; in fact, she may have had us fill out that extracurricular interests sheet on day one just to make sure her subsequent seating charts were completely irrational and mean random. (Whiny junior high voice: “But why can’t I sit by my best friend? She’s like, my only friend in the whole world, and if I don’t sit by her in computer class, I’ll never make friends with aaaanyoooone!”)

Mrs. Margaret (Peggi) Babick

When other teachers shut their doors with a sigh of relief at the end of the day, Mrs. Babick kept her door open, and stood in the hallway, greeting the mess of students that had survived another day of hell middle school. Under the stress of heavy backpacks and all the mood swings that define middle school, we knew that if we could just route ourselves down E-Hall, there was a good chance of getting an encouraging, understanding smile from Mrs. Babick.

She had a way of making all of us feel equal, important, and like what we did mattered. During our word processing unit, Mrs. Babick had us write thank you letters to teachers at the school. The way she made us spell check and grammar check those documents, you’d have thought she were an English teacher. I remember her saying, as she proofread my letter one final time, “You know, this letter’s going to mean a lot to this teacher. I bet she didn’t even think you noticed.” And 17 years later, her words still remind me to speak up in appreciation for others’ good works.

As if decorating her own classroom weren’t enough, Mrs. Babick posted a spirit board in the hallway, and kept it bright with a new theme every season. If you wore school colors on Friday you got to sign your name to the wall.

To this day, I can’t understand how, in the same year that I got braces, while having giant glasses, frizzy hair, and thrift store clothing (before “vintage” was trendy), Mrs. Babick made me feel cool. One month, I even got red and white alternating bands on my braces. I was probably the biggest dork in all of middle school. But that month, I got to sign Mrs. Babick’s spirit board every single week.

You can't see it. But that's a sunflower clip in my hair.
I remember running back over to middle school after my first week at the giant high school down the street to tell Mrs. Babick that no one cared if we chewed gum anymore, and I thought my geometry teacher was cute. Somehow, she acted genuinely interested.

We’ve stayed in and out of touch over the years, but I’ve always looked to Mrs. Babick as an example that one person at one point in time can make a long-term difference in the life of a student.

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