With our wedding, honeymoon and several arguments behind us, Libby would graduate from The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in the spring of 1980 having completed her student teaching at Howard Elementary School, an inner city school in downtown Chattanooga. Libby’s impact on the students, faculty and administration was immediate and obvious at Howard and every other place in which she taught. Libby had been teaching children since she was fourteen years old in a Sunday School class at her dad’s church, but now she was getting paid to do the thing that she loved most and it was obvious to all who who knew her that she had found her true calling in life.
Now, with Libby working we had two incomes and no college tuition to pay so there was a huge weight lifted off of our financial shoulders. With less financial strain on our relationship we had only minimal disagreements until we clashed over an idea that Libby had while teaching at Howard Elementary when she decided that way too many of her kindergarten students were from broken homes and they would benefit from a positive family experience. Libby thought that the best way for many of her students to have that positive experience would be to bring two or three of her students to our house every weekend so we could take them hiking or fishing on Saturday and then take them to Sunday School and Church on Sunday. Libby had everything worked out in her mind, including the fact that she would simply bring them home on Friday and they would stay at our house until she took them back to school with with her on Monday morning, Then as the year progressed we would be able to keep all of her students at least for a few days and give each of them a positive Christian influence.
Libby’s heart was in the right place but she and I had to have a serious discussion about a few of the practical details that she had failed to consider in her zealous approach to changing her kindergartner’s circumstances such as liability insurance coverage, crossing state lines with minor children, and class action lawsuits. Libby thought everyone looked at the world the same way she did, and although it would be nice if that were so, I had to continually introduce a cynical realism into her pure, idealist world.
In the end, we never kept any children at our home but in spite of that, Libby’s love impacted nearly all of the children that she taught and many times their parents as well. As a compromise for not keeping children in our home, Libby and I spent several weekends in the inner city projects visiting the homes of her students to try and convince their moms that they needed to take an active role in their child’s education, praying with them and giving them books to read to their children.
Libby had some unusual teaching challenges as she taught at Howard Elementary, Graysville Elementary and Chattanooga Valley Elementary; a rule follower by nature, Libby found it completely amazing that people who knew the rules would choose to break one or more of those rules. One memorable challenge involved an unruly, spoiled little kindergarten boy (whom I will call Jonathan). Jonathan was constantly getting into trouble, he was the type of boy that had never been disciplined at home and he found out early in life that a good old fashioned temper tantrum was the key to getting anything he wanted. Now, besides being a rule follower, Libby was confident in her decisions (some may say stubborn) and it was nearly impossible to change her mind once she made it up, and she had made up her mind that Jonathan had a scared, loving, insecure little boy trapped inside a short-tempered bully who needed some discipline and direction in his life, and if his parents wouldn’t provide it then she would.
I was regaled nearly every night at the dinner table with stories of Jonathan being involved in fights, kicking a teacher and bullying other children in their kindergarten class. One day when Libby was trying to correct some errant behavior, Jonathan kicked her in the shin and tried to bite her arm. Libby calmly picked Jonathan up and wrapped her arms around him holding him tight. She had her teaching assistant take the other children out to the playground and Libby continued to restrain Jonathan throughout recess and for most of the remainder of the day. She would talk softly to him saying, “Miss Libby loves you and I only want you to listen to me and be obedient”. When Miss Libby finally released her lovingly firm grip, Jonathan was sullen and quite until he got on the bus to go home, then he told his mom about “that mean old lady teacher” that had picked on him and caused him to miss recess.
The following day Jonathan’s mother stormed into the principal’s office and demanded that the principal withdraw her son from the school and insisted that Mrs. Gilley be disciplined for being so hard on her son. She informed the principal that she would be moving him to a better school with better teachers. That evening when Libby arrived home she cried, saying that she had failed Jonathan and began to question her effectiveness as a teacher. My comforting words for Libby went something like this, “He’s a spoiled brat with an overindulgent mom and you should be happy she transferred him. I would call his new teacher and, as a professional courtesy, warn her of the impending doom!”
Not one to wallow very long in self pity, Libby soon got up from the couch and got busy, she found out where Jonathan was being transferred and the name of his new teacher, then she called Jonathan’s new teacher at home. I thought Libby was going to take my advice and warn the teacher about Jonathan’s behavior problems and tell this new teacher what to expect from the entire psychotic family but no; the whole conversation between Libby and this other teacher involved Libby trying to get Jonathan back into her classroom. (This was one of many examples why, as parents, you would much rather have Libby teach your children than me). Libby told the new teacher that Jonathan was beginning to respond to her, but by changing teachers and schools now it would be the worst possible thing for him reinforcing his manipulative behavior. Libby wanted the teacher’s help in convincing Jonathan’s mother that they should return Jonathan to Libby’s classroom and allow her to continue working with him. Libby’s plea to the teacher and later to her principal fell on deaf ears. The saddest part of this story is that Libby never saw Jonathan again, she did keep up with his progress, or lack thereof, until several years later when she learned that he was in juvenile detention and once more Libby felt like she had let Jonathan down.
The conflict with “Jonathan” epitomizes the commitment and desire Libby had for each child entrusted into her care and I marveled how quickly and completely she could fall in love with the children of strangers throughout our first seven year of marriage, but then we had our own children and things really changed at our house.