With a stinky stogie clamped between my teeth, I threw a crumpled trench coat over my shoulder, slapped my grandfather’s worn fedora on my head, stood on tip-toes and peeked through the window of the classroom door. Waiting for my cue, my heart raced, overtaking the steady beat of the hallway clock as it ticked the minutes to my entrance. Before I was able to swipe a sweaty palm across my rumpled shirt, it came…
“Oscar. Oscar. Oscar,” my friend Barbara lamented, nodding in my direction.
With one deep breath, I grabbed the door handle, pushed it down, and burst into the room. No longer the quiet, shy, mild-mannered Donna Lambo, I transformed into Oscar Madison, a confident sports writer for the (fictional) New York Herald, the carefree, messy friend and room-mate to neat, neurotic Felix Unger, the other half of The Odd Couple.
Faster than you can drop a mic, my scene mates and I were bowing, our classmates, clapping. I might not have been able to leap tall buildings in a single bound like one of my early childhood heroes, Superman, but in that moment, it felt like I had, thanks to my tenth grade english teacher. Felicia DeBetta’s creative, enthusiastic, motivating, and supportive style of teaching cracked the chains of my timid adolescent awkwardness, thereby laying the first layer of inspiration and self-confidence to the foundation of who I would one day become.
Because I had been bitten by the DeBetta bug, when the next semester rolled around, I immediately signed up for her Public Speaking class. Talk about sweat pouring from places you never knew existed. And as for trembling? I could out shake any leaf dangling from a wispy stem in a tempestuous windstorm anytime.
At least in drama class I was playing a part, characters as far removed from me as the earth is from the moon. But public speaking? Gahhhhhh! This challenged me to be me – to write a speech, something persuasive, informational, controversial, and stand before my peers with all my perceived imperfections and speak. Speak up. Speak about something that moved me. That I was passionate about. That showed I had an opinion. But what if no one shared that opinion? If they thought it was irrelevant? Or stupid? Would that make me stupid, too? Gahhhh! Gahhh! Triple Gahhhh!
Before this speech, the first I’d ever given, I’d never known my cheeks could flush hotter than the measles induced fever I’d survived at age six, or that my heart could detach itself from my chest cavity, speed through sixty-thousand miles of blood vessels, and crash land in my throat and ears. Not to mention, the queasiness in my gut, which felt akin to a flock of turkeys tearing about, all willy-nilly, in their attempt to escape the Thanksgiving plate. My knees joined the circus, too. The dimpled pair knocked so hard I was sure the sound would upstage my presentation. BUT, just as I thought I might pass out, a simple side glance settled the storm raging in my body. Mrs. DeBetta’s bright, piercing gaze rooted me on the spot. It willed me to keep calm and carry on. To step from my shy shell and be the speaker at least she, if not I, knew I could be.
So I did it! I took a deep breath and powered through. The indentation of my fingertips embedded in Mrs. DeBetta’s standard issued City of New York Department of Education’s desk proved it.
Now, a lifetime later, it’s still a bit of a challenge whenever I speak before a group. What does makes it easier though, is taking a deep breath, imagining Mrs. DeBetta in the audience, nodding a thank you, and then simply carrying on. It works wonders. Desktops and podiums are no longer at risk from my iron grip.
When recently asked, “Who was your favorite teacher? The one who influenced you most? The one you will remember forever?” My answer was easy, as you can well imagine…
“My tenth grade english teacher, whose spunky spirit and loving support inspired me as much then as it does now.”
Mrs. DeBetta, I can only imagine the number of lives you touched during your long teaching career, and those that you continue to impact, in ways you’ll never know.
But at least now, you know one student’s everlasting love and appreciation for you.
❤ Thank you, Mrs. DeBetta…thank you, thank you, THANK YOU ❤
Now, Dear Reader, who was your favorite teacher? The one who influenced you most? The one you will remember forever? Won’t you share your appreciation for them in the comments?
~ Wishing You All The Best ~
Until next time…
Darling Donna, That was a super, duper post. I love it! Being that I taught for thirty-seven years, it’s a pleasure to feel how a student could remember a meaningful teacher. Wow! You really accomplished SHOWING all the places fear hides in the body! Wonderful!I’m hoping I can bypass that fear in my up upcoming book launch! Looking forward to seeing you Wednesday—right? Love,Jacquie
You’ve got nerves of steel, Jacquie. You’ll do puuuurrrrfectly! And as a teacher, I’m sure you were the best, too ❤
Amazing and fabulous! I love how you started the story! Perfect! Then all of the descriptions of how you felt! Soooo…..You were nervous, huh? never would have guessed…Ha,ha!
Beyond nervous. If I’d had an airsick bag I’d have barfed. Many thanks Vic ❤
Lovely. I hope you send a copy to Mrs. DeBetta. It will mean a great deal to her. I had a choir teacher who was tough and demanding. He influenced me more than any other. Walter Cherwein was his name. Thanks for the post.
I did manage to track her down and sent her the link. Just waiting to hear back. Not that I need her to reply, but… Now you’ve made me remember my choir teacher too. Mr. Boylen. Used to call us a bunch of lemons if we were off key. Ahhhh…memories. Thanks for commenting Rosi. Always nice hearing from you (thanks for Shouting In The Rain too!) 🙂
A wonderful tribute. Well done with the speaking, too. This is the second post I have read today which asks for my favourite teacher. The answer is in this post: https://derrickjknight.com/2012/07/04/no-one-forgets-a-good-teacher/
Thank you, Derrick…or should I say Moon? It is that graduation time of year. I guess the question about favourite teacher’s comes up often as a result. Be well!
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Sh, Donna 🙂 Thanks for following the link
Of course, M… uh, Derrick. My lips are zipped.
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Ah, darling, you are marvelous! Mrs. DeBetta was my favorite teacher, too! I loved that woman- so genuinely warm and open and loving! She genuinely cared for each of us. I played a part as a kid and choked back the giggles and managed to pull it off. And she always encouraged the kids to just hang in there and keep going- that nothing bad would happen and she called us all darling. Thanks for the lovely memories, Donna. I wonder where she is today and if she does know how much we loved her…
Well, I did manage to find out she still lives on SI. I’m trying to get in touch, but have been unsuccessful so far. She sure was a gem (still is, I’d think). Thanks for adding your thoughts, Ailine. Always good to hear from you ❤
Love your distinction between speaking in public when you can play a part vs being yourself and offering your own opinions. When I first started practicing law in front of judges, I had to pretend I was someone else other than shy, reticent Ellen. Now, every time I appear before a group, I am me. I think part of the change came from bearing my soul in my nonfiction essays; speaking is just an oral version of the same. And who was my most influential teacher? That’s really hard to say, but I’m going with my AP English teacher, Miss Baker, who approved my Vonnegut reading for extra credit, even though she didn’t consider him literature. Her position encouraged me to explore wildly in my reading, which has been one of the joys of my life. ❤
It’s interesting, right? I like to believe I’ve made some progress since then 🙂