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Entries categorized "Grief"

My High School English Teacher and Me – Remembering Marcia Blacker

Elayne Savage, PhD

#175 HelpingHand-MarciaHelping Hand © Can Stock Photo / focalpoint

I knew immediately when the email arrived: it was to let me know she had died.

I haven’t been able to reach her in a long time and a couple of times I even checked obituaries in her town, Lexington KY, but couldn’t find anything.

This email was from her daughter Nancy Blacker, letting me know her mother, Marcia Blacker had passed away two years ago. She had just found my email address and wanted to make sure I knew.

And she wanted to let me know another sister, Mimi, read something at the funeral service that I had published in my first book about her mom. 

Marcia Blacker was my Omaha Central High School Junior Year English teacher - who had reached out to me after my mother died. I learned later it was her first teaching job — and she was only a few years older than me.

Thirty years later I decided to search for her. We reconnected and stayed connected for 25 years! Marcia’s son David Blacker described my attempt to find her in his book for educators Dying to Teach.

Marcia called our re-connection ‘Our Story,’ always insisting someone should make a movie of it!

I originally published this piece several years ago,

OK Marcia, here again is 'Our Story’. . .

Honoring Marcia Blacker and The Immortality of Teachers 

Elayne Savage, PhD

I don't remember much about my high school years. I was pretty much a mess after my mother and grandmother died.

I went through the motions of classes, friends, activities. And yet each day was a re-creation of the blur of the day before.

I felt alone and adrift and afraid. 

Through the haze of those years I do remember occasionally people tried to reach out. I always pushed them away.

There was one person who stands out in her efforts to reach me. My Omaha Central High School junior year English teacher, Marcia Blacker.

I guess I was pretty disruptive in her class. Whispering to classmates, blurting out without raising my hand. All the acting out was mostly to get attention. 

"Please stay after class," she said one day. "I want to have a talk with you."

Groan. I plunked my belligerent self down in the chair next to her desk, expecting to be chewed out.

 But there was no lecture. Instead she asked, "Is everything OK at home? Is anything wrong?"

I was speechless.

 In fact, there was a lot wrong at home. But I couldn't bring myself to tell her about how miserable I was. How I was trying hold things together for my dad and my younger brother. How my dad sold his business and took a job traveling the state. How he hired a housekeeper to take care of us. How she would fly into a rage and bounce me from one wall to wall in the basement. 

But somehow Marcia Blacker noticed something might have been amiss. She was the only adult who thought to ask me about what could be wrong.


The Creation of "Anna Franklin"

And another first: Marcia Blacker was the first person to encourage my writing. She entered one of my class stories in a city-wide contest. The story was about a child in an orphanage who yearned to be adopted. 

According to the rules of the contest, she assigned a pseudonym for judging purposes.

To this day, whenever I have to think fast to come up with an alias, I use the name she assigned me, "Anna Franklin"

 I remembered her kindnesses – and her love for Edgar Allan Poe. Yet, it was decades later before I fully understood how special this teacher was. 


Permission to Act "Crazy" for a Day

When I was working on a PhD in Family Psychology, my 'Understanding Schizophrenia' course included spending the day on the grounds of a retreat. Lots of open space and grass and trees and fresh air. 

We paired off and were to alternate with our partner in playing two roles: 'the patient' who could act crazy and do or say anything we wanted and the 'keeper' who made sure the 'patient' stayed safe.

The instructor, a Berkeley psychiatrist, was always nearby to keep an eye on things. To begin he passed out blank name tags, instructing us to choose a fictional name and age.

I found myself writing "Marcia – age 15."

For the next couple of hours, I was 15 year old "Marcia," experiencing overpowering adolescent emotions and scary thoughts. I was surprised how quickly I got to that dark place.

Later that night when I was writing up my experience, it began to making sense. I realized why I chose  age 15. That's when I was struggling to hold things together. Looking back, I realized for the first time I was probably on the brink of breaking down. 

Where did the name "Marcia" come from? And why did I spell it that way? Then I understood. I chose the name of my junior year high school English teacher, Marcia Blacker.

Isn't it amazing how the unconscious works! And I trusted myself to listen.


Searching For Marcia Blacker – and Trying to Find Myself 

I knew I needed to find her, but where to start? 

I conferred with my instructor, the psychiatrist. He encouraged me to recall whatever details I could.

Luckily I remembered her husband was in medical school when she was teaching. I knew his name because years earlier he was a camp counselor.

My instructor suggested he'd be easy to find because he was a physician. 

When I located him in Texas he connected me with her. She was living in Lexington, KY.

I made a recording of my memories of those high school days. I told her how grateful I was for her concern. I tried to describe my state of mind back then,

I had to keep flipping off the tape recorder because I couldn't stop crying.

I had two burning questions for her. First, what prompted her to ask whether everything was OK at home? I needed to know what she might have noticed that led her to ask me about my life at home. Next I wanted to know what she remembered about me.

Clearly I had not only been searching for Marcia Blacker, but for myself as well. I was hoping for some answers to help fill in the blanks in my memory.

I was disappointed she didn't remember more about what led up to that after-class conversation. 

Interesting how Marcia and I have different memories of what happened that day in her classroom.

She remembers me “as a bright student." She can still see me  – sitting next to her desk in my cheerleading outfit – white skirt, white sweater and purple 'C.'

"As I recall, I asked you to stay after class because I thought your "misbehavior" was so unusual there might be something wrong . . . I don't remember thinking it was necessarily a problem at home. I might have even thought you had a problem with me."

Interesting how I immediately had jumped to thinking she was wondering if there was something wrong at home.

True, she didn't remember as much about me as I had hoped she would. However seeking and finding her was the beginning of our incredible long-time friendship.
When her son, educator Dr. David Blacker, published Dying to Teach: The Educator's Search for Immortality, a book for aspiring teachers, he included the transcript of the tape I sent her.

Thank goodness the tears were edited out. I didn't want anyone to see me so vulnerable.


The Enduring Legacy of Teachers

Clearly Marcia Blacker has had an amazing influence on her students. David collected some of these stories about her for his book. 

Back in those days at Central High I was a kid and Marcia Blacker was a grown up. When I was in her English class she was freshly out of teacher’s college. Years later I loved discovering there were only 4 years difference in our ages!

True, she didn't remember me the way I had hoped she would, however seeking and finding her was the beginning of our incredible long-time friendship. 

Can you imagine what a thrill it was when I was giving a book talk in Louisville, KY and she drove in from Lexington to hear me speak!  

The best part was introducing her to the audience as " I’d like you to meet my high school English teacher, Marcia Blacker, the first person to believe in my ability to write!”

© Elayne Savage, PhD

Elayne Savage is the author of ground-breaking relationship books published in 9 languages.
Both books are now available on Kindle!


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