Mrs. Duvall

by Michael Hart
Amherst, Massachusetts, USA

Mrs. DuvallIf there was one thing that would inspire fear in the heart of a fourth grader at Damascus Elementary in the mid-1980s, it was the name Mrs. Duvall. She was my math teacher, a large, intimidating woman who walked with a heavy step and always had a severe look on her face. Her voice was rough and deep, and when she raised it the only thing that shook more than the walls were the children in their seats. Before math period, you could hear her voice booming from across the hall, and I remember feeling sorry for her main class, who had to suffer her close scrutiny for much more of the day than I did.

I was good at math until we started fiddling with long division, but struggle and hard work brought success at even that. Yet even as hard as it was, I didn’t know the meaning of difficult until I tackled money and time. I could count change and tell time, but when it came to adding or subtracting either one, I was at a loss. It came so easily for my peers, but it would be a stumbling block for me that would take months to overcome.

We had tests we had to take on a computer in the room, and we had to keep taking the tests until we passed them. Week after week I approached Mrs. Duvall’s desk with fear after yet another failed attempt, and week after week I had to listen to her frustration: “You know this, Michael! You know how to do it!” I considered asking Mrs. Duvall if I could just take a failing mark for that section, because I wanted to give up more than anything. But I also wanted to prove myself, so I decided to keep working at it.

Eventually the day came that I passed that frustrating test. I approached Mrs. Duvall’s desk again, with a head hung low as if I had failed once more. A look of disappointment came to her face, and then I looked up with a big smile and exclaimed, “I passed!” Much to my surprise, Mrs. Duvall jumped up from her desk, gave me a big hug and a slopping wet kiss on the cheek, and looked me in the eyes with a proud look on her face. “Michael, I always knew you could do it!”

I don’t know if she realized it, but she gave me that day the most precious gift I have ever received. She believed in me, and because someone like her could believe in me, I learned to believe in myself. Whenever I feel like giving up, I remember Mrs. Duvall’s faith in me, take a deep breath and give it all I’ve got. Years later, the same kid who struggled with even the most basic mathematical concepts went to college on a full academic scholarship and graduated near the top of his class. All because Mrs. Duvall didn’t give up on him.

Originally published as HeroicStories #81 on Nov 6, 1999
Available in The Best of HeroicStories, Volume 1.

3 thoughts on “Mrs. Duvall”

  1. It’s amazing how one ‘small’ incident can end up meaning the world to someone, not just in the moment but over a lifetime. A good lesson to remember, especially when we have the opportunity to encourage.

  2. Your new “full page” format is now working well in my Gmail window and in the browser.
    I can only recall one teacher who gave me special encouragement which I never forgot. My College Freshman English instructor remarked on a graded essay, “Congratulations! You have learned to think! Now you have to learn how to explain it to the rest of us.”


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