32 The Substitute
I'll never forget the day I met Mrs. Ferguson. That day, she walked into our tenth-grade biology class wearing a pink blouse with puffy sleeves and white tennis shoes. Thick glasses made her eyes look enormous. "Mrs.Peterson has had her baby," she announced, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear. "She has decided not to return to teaching this year—so I'll be taking over this class."
I groaned. Everyone loved Mrs. Peterson, a pretty woman in her late twenties. She had a wonderful way of making the most boring lessons fun. She was really cool, but Mrs. Ferguson was absolutely not.
Right away, the popular kids started making fun of her. I was not proud of it, but I joined in. I felt bad about it. But I was a cheerleader, and I felt I had to go along with the popular crowd.
Then one day after school and a long cheerleading practice, my friend Alex and I were looking for a place to freshen up before the football match. We walked past Mrs. Ferguson's room and were surprised to see her at her desk, grading papers. "Girls, can I help you?"
We stopped. "We're just looking for a place to plug in our curling irons ," I said. My face felt hot. She probably thinks we're vain , stupid cheerleaders.
You're welcome to use the plug in here, she said, motioning to the mirror. I didn't know what to say. I couldn't imagine fixing my hair in Mrs. Ferguson's room.
Sure, that's really nice of you, said Alex, elbowing me. "Yeah, thanks," I said.
We set up our stuff by the mirrors and started primping . Mrs. Ferguson was silent as she finished grading papers. Then she pulled a chair over near us. What's she doing? I wondered. Was she going to lecture us? "So how do you keep your hair from falling out of that style while you're cheering?" she asked Alex.
Then the strangest thing happened. Alex and Mrs. Ferguson started talking about hair products. That led to a discussion about makeup, and cheerleading, and guys ... stuff you'd talk to your best girlfriend about. By the time we left, the three of us had covered everything from lipstick to curfews .
After that, I started to see Mrs. Ferguson differently. She seemed to genuinely care about her students. I stopped joining in when people talked behind her back.
One day after class, Mrs. Ferguson asked me if I was going to try out for cheerleading again. Spring tryouts for next year were only a week away. "I just can't do it," I told her. "My heart isn't in it. I feel like I need to make my grades my priority."
I bet that was a hard decision for you, she said.
But I know it's the right one, I said, my voice shaking.
Is Alex going to try out? she asked.
Yeah, I said, hoping Mrs. Ferguson didn't notice I was getting emotional, "it's a tradition to take flowers to the girls trying out, so I plan to get some for her."
What a neat idea! she said.
The week of tryouts was hard. I'd been cheering since the eighth grade,and I was going to miss it—the pep rallies , making posters, performing at games with my friends. I kept wondering if I'd made the wrong decision.
On tryout day, I decided to go and watch, to support Alex. As I waited in the bleachers for things to begin, I glanced over at the gym door. Mrs. Ferguson was walking toward me. "Mrs. Ferguson, what are you doing here?" I asked.
I wouldn't miss it for the world! With that, she handed me a small bouquet of pale blue flowers.
What are these for?
I know today would be tough for you. It is the least I could do, she said, squeezing my arm.
I gave Mrs. Ferguson a huge hug. How blessed I was to have a teacher who took the time to care about me so much. Sure, Mrs. Ferguson may not have been the most fashionable person in the school. But looks really don't mean a thing. Take it from me and my favorite teacher, Mrs. Ferguson.
(By Kim Rogers)