An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Except for student teaching, I never taught in schools in my own neighborhood. I didn’t want neighbors or ward members expecting a parent-teacher conference every time we met. Once I taught my physician’s daughter, a sweet girl and the apple of her father’s eye, but it changed our doctor/patient relationship. So much time was spent discussing Daphne’s accomplishments that my ailments went unaddressed.

A family from my neighborhood moved into the school boundary where I taught and their daughter was assigned to my 8th grade English class. I had attended Relief Society and Sunday School with the mother, Marilyn, every Sunday for several years. Naturally, I was surprised when I greeted Marilyn by first name at Parent Conference and she showed no sign of recognition and called me Mrs. Johnson. I didn’t think I had aged unrecognizably  in the two years since their family had moved. Taffy was an indifferent student, but was not a poor enough scholar to make her mother pretend not to know me.

Another former neighbor also gave no sign of recognizing me when I taught her son, but I understood this situation a bit better. Bret and Jessica Walden  lived on our street. Jessica, the kids, and occasionally Bret attended our ward. Our daughter babysat for them. A year or so after they moved from our ward, I began teaching at the state prison and found Bret Walden incarcerated there. Bret hung out with some of the inmate clerks working for me. I hadn’t known Bret well as a neighbor, but he was the life of the party in prison. He’d been caught embezzling funds from his employer, but didn’t let this roll of the dice interfere with his zest for life. When I was leaving the prison, I occasionally met Jessica arriving to visit Bret and we chatted briefly.

A few years later, I was teaching junior high and Bick Walden, the spitting image of his father, showed up in my class. When Jessica arrived at Parent Conference, I greeted her by first name, but no glimmer of recognition flickered on her face. Our previous acquaintance apparently belonged to a past she preferred to forget. I hope she didn’t think I might mention her husband’s prison record to Bick or my other students.

Apparently, I could have taught in my own neighborhood with no problems. Other neighbors also might have chosen not to acknowledge my acquaintance.

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Comments on: "Is It My Job or Is It Me?" (4)

  1. Small world. Made smaller by those who choose to pretend they don’t know you. I’ve gone so far as to cross a street in order to avoid the person coming from the opposite direction. I suppose there are those times when it just feels better to think we can hide, or believe ourselves anonymous.

  2. “A past she preferred to forget”. Those words describe situations that I have frequently encountered, including just this past Sunday when I visited my daughter’s ward to hear a grandson speak. Although the Stake President was well aware of my divorce 25 years years ago and also of my daughter’s 15 year (and very painful) estrangement from her biological father he still greeted me with an “I knew your ex in high school and he was such a great guy”. I thought my daughter was going to flip out right there in the chapel. I’m sure a second meeting with this unthinking stake president is going to take place soon with my daughter.

    Another thought on anonymity: for a number of years I managed a psychiatric practice where I handled records and knew in too great detail the circumstances of our patients. When encountering patients outside of the office my standard response was to smile only. If they chose to acknowledge me then I respond but I never mention the connection.

    Like olesha, I often go out of my way to avoid some people for various reasons. And I love Caller ID. Sometimes I just don’t feel like talking.

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