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That one special teacher...

Arrow Arrow Slider 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 it was such a difficulty to speak 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 fought 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!

6 comments

Mar 27, 2017 • Posted by Miki Nava

I’m still shy when doing any sort of public speaking though! ;)

Mar 27, 2017 • Posted by Miki Nava

After posting this blog and seeing the reaction I got on my facebook page from all your former students, I see I am not alone in thinking you were that one speical teacher!:) I am really going to try and come to SF next year so we can see you, will keep you updated…

Mar 27, 2017 • Posted by Jeremy Durfee

Beautiful Miki,
Thank you for the memories and kind words. So long ago, and still so fresh in my heart. I do remember when there was a move by some staff to reject you from admission to ASIJ. There was some feeling that your English was so low, and it would be unfair to you to be struggling in the same school where your sister, Lisa, was such a star. And I remember standing up for you and setting up programs to aid in your “survival” in the school. I saw your desire to be there, and in spite of your shyness and fears, I saw enough to believe that you would succeed beyond their visions for your future as a student. I was always glad to spend time with you and to encourage you to be the person you already were inside. It was fun watching you grow and prosper, and I was thankful that you showed that I was correct in maintaining my beliefs in you. I was correct to stand up for you, but you were the one who did all of the work. You were the one with the ability and the drive. All I did was see it. If I helped you see your greatness and potential, I am happy for that. But I did not create that greatness and potential, only saw it that first day.
On a side note, if Adam was kind to you and asked you to dance, it was entirely his own decision. He may have heard me say fine things about you at home, but I would have never told him to “Go be kid” or anything like that. His heart was always that way. I believe it still is. I didn’t create that aspect in my kids, I just saw it early and often. Besides, what 6th grade boy actually listens to his Dad?
Thank you for kindness and memories. I do hope that I will get to see you before long and we can laugh and tell adventures from our lives. I may have added to your life … please understand that you added so much to mine. Lisa too, of course. Love to you. xoxo

Mar 27, 2017 • Posted by Lisa

Who would have ever imagined Miki as a quiet, shy and insecure girl…?! You have to have seen it to believe it, she’s not exaggerated anything in this blog!!! Love you Mr. Durfee, if only you knew how important you really were to us Schroder girls!!! :)

Mar 27, 2017 • Posted by Julia

I love this! My special teacher was Mrs. Burl in Grade 7. She instilled in me a lifelong love of learning and made me feel interesting, valuable and heard. Both Ava and Sophie have each had some wonderful teachers and I am so grateful because it makes all the difference! Thank you for sharing!

Mar 27, 2017 • Posted by Miki Nava

I really hope my girls are lucky enough to have a great teacher too! It makes such a big difference to everything!

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