Look who I ran into a couple of weeks ago at the Owensboro Regional Farmers Market! Yes.  That's Mrs. Hassan, who used to teach at Thruston Elementary School!


I was in second grade when Mrs. Hassan arrived at Thruston Elementary and I was in her very first class at the school.  And, I can honestly say (and admit), she was, in so many ways, my first exposure to a culture other than my own.

I mean, I was a kid.  I knew a few basic things about my new teacher.  She had an accent I struggled to understand at times.  She wore these skirts that had dozens and dozens of pleats in them and I always wondered if she had to iron each one that way.  She was a stern disciplinarian.  And she expected, demanded that her students have respect for her and each other.  I remember thinking and actually having this conversation with classmates . . .  "Is second grade supposed to be this hard?"

But, over the course of the school year, we got used to Mrs. Hassan's accent.  And, even more importantly, we got used to her expectations.  And, most of us I think, really did grow to respect her.  We wanted to succeed and we wanted to meet the challenges she presented us every day in class.

I have some really fond memories of second grade.  Here are some of the things I recall.

I remember, quite vividly because it was kinda gross, our first lice check.  We were sitting in Mrs. Hassan's class when Mrs. Jones (the kindergarten teacher) walked in with a pencil that she raked through our hair to look for unwelcome organisms.  By the way, you didn't want to be the kid that got the white envelope to take home to momma!

I also remember sitting in Mrs. Hassan's class early one morning and staring out the windows (which faced the Thruston ball fields).  The sky was literally pitch black and the clouds looked treacherous at best.  A massive storm system was barreling toward our school and a tornado warning was in effect.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  We were terrified and Mrs. Hassan, with the kind of discipline she preached to us, instructed us to get in our tornado-safe positions.  That day, though it looked terrifying outside her classroom, was orderly and calm inside it because of her.

And, here's the memory I recall most.  It was pretty much a given that students bought their teachers Christmas presents.  And, honestly, I remember wondering if Mrs. Hassan celebrated Christmas.  I'm not sure I ever asked an adult that, but I remember wondering.  After all, like I mentioned, she was my first exposure to a culture unlike mine.  But, I also really, really wanted to get her a special gift.  So, I picked one out.  And, looking back, this is quite hilarious and telling.  I got her a brandy snifter full of pink bath crystals.  I was so proud of that, wrapped it and took it to school to proudly present it to Mrs. Hassan.  Only, when she called me up to her desk to give it to her, I tripped and it fell out of my hands and shattered on the classroom floor.  I remember being SO disappointed.

See, I had grown to really like Mrs. Hassan.  And I was sure she really liked me too.  I worked hard in her classroom and I'm pretty sure I did so because I knew she expected it.  And, to this day, I attribute some of my work ethic to her tutelage and her insistence that we focus and succeed.  Honestly, looking back, she was a major influence on me in so many ways.  I know I worked and studied harder because she willed me to.  And I am convinced that my appreciation for folks who are different from me started with her.  I am grateful for a lot of things she taught me, but I will be eternally grateful for that.

When I ran into Mrs. Hassan at the Farmers Market, I recognized her immediately.  I walked over to her and said, "Rhonda Hassan!"  She looked at me for a second.  And then I said, "I'm Chad Benefield."  She immediately gasped, smiled, grabbed my hands and said, "My student!  Oh!  My student."

I gave her a hug, told her it was great to see her, then, naturally, snapped a selfie.  A selfie of a teacher, her student and their unbreakable, unmistakable bond.

More From WBKR-FM