The Gold Star

     It was one of those interviews where you knew a line was being walked.  I had been laid off for two years and now recalled to an elementary school teaching position.  I was being interviewed by an unfamiliar principal.  A principal that I had been warned was not always up front with her feelings and views.  A principal who had been around for a good long while.  A principal who was very hung up on the fact that I have a hearing impairment.

     How did I feel that I could be a good role model in teaching Kindergarteners about letter sounds when I had a speech impediment?  Speech impediment?  And she asked it with a very pronounced lisp herself.  I remember being told by the personnel director that I would be working for her and telling him that she very nearly crossed the line with regard to handicap harassment by an employer.  It wasn’t something that I generally had concerns about but this one threw up a red flag.  He said not to worry but to make sure I keep in close contact with him in regards to the matter.  

    And so I began my Kindergarten Teaching career.  I was a nervous wreck….but not for long.   Once she saw how I taught and I saw how she appreciated creative approaches, everything was fine.  She would come into your classroom, unannounced, sit in the back and watch, leaving a handwritten note on some kind of interesting note paper and then quietly leave.  When it came time to read your professional evaluation, bits and pieces of those observations were always included.  And I still have all of those notes. 

She would bring total strangers, prospective  parents etc. into your classroom unannounced as well.  I remember once I had reeled out a long piece of butcher paper and my Kindys were stepping in paint and walking the length of it as part of a Language Arts project.  I was mortified at the mess we were making and flustered and blustered my way through the conversation.  She thought it was hilarious and sang my praises to the people she was with.  One time – on ‘W’ day – I had real worms, rubber worms and gummy worms in various activities around the room.   She stuck around for most of the morning on that day just to see what the heck else I was going to do with a worm.  Her note said that my ‘W Day’ activities were ‘Wierd’ and ‘Wonderful.’

She never failed to make me feel like I was being given a big gold star for my work.  At least that was true if she liked you.  There were lots that couldn’t deal with her.  But I, fortunately, had become one of her favorite teachers.  She said so…all the time.

She was only my administrator for two and a half years.  She retired mid year and moved out of state.  She never really tried to keep in touch much.  And for some odd reason she had given me a small metal frog before she left.  Not sure why.  I still have it.  Kept it on my desk for years and years.  And today I thought about it alot.

     Julie Sajo died this week….somewhere in Kansas after a lengthy illness.  She gave me a priceless gift when I needed it the most.  She gave me acceptance and pride and permission to be ‘wierd’ and ‘wonderful’ in my classroom…something I hope I have never lost.

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4 Comments on “The Gold Star”

  1. Mary Says:

    What a beautiful and moving tribute. I hope you share it with her family (or at least most of it!)

  2. Darcy Says:

    Wow. Heavy and quite a tribute to her as a principal.

  3. Mary Ellen Says:

    Isn’t it funny how sometimes people aren’t what you expect?
    What a good surprise.

  4. Jen Says:

    Hi I found your blog b/c a friend had posted a facebook picture of my 4th grade class (I am 42 now) and Ms. Sajo was our principal (in Michigan). I wanted to find out whatever happened to her and decided to google her name. She was such a great lady! It has been many years but I remember how she knew ALL the kids by name, the entire school!, and when we graduated high school, she sent us each a card. Great lady!


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