“Hey Fatso!” I will never forget the first time I heard those words. They were spoken by a cute redheaded boy I had a crush on back in third grade. Until I was eight years old I didn’t even know I was overweight; and I guess my family didn’t either as they had never mentioned it. When I went home crying that night I asked my mom to tell me the truth and she said, “Sweetie, you are beautiful, you are healthy, you are talented and you are mine. But if it would make you feel better, I will make an appointment with Dr. Jackson and we can see what he says.” That was the first time “I ever went on a “diet” – but it certainly wouldn’t be my last.
I spent the next twenty years of my life self-conscious about my looks, what I ate and what I wore. My older sister was a cheerleader, size 6, and I couldn’t even wear her hand-me-downs. I gained the most weight when I was in high school, and then I would go on crash diets that wouldn’t last for long. No one was harder on me than I was on myself. I vowed that if I ever became a teacher like I wanted to, I would make sure none of my students ever called anyone hurtful names. It was a great goal, but of course I couldn’t fix the world.
It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s and married, that I began a healthy well-balanced eating program. It wasn’t a diet, it was a new way of living. I am proud to say that I did indeed become a teacher, and for the past thirty years I kept off 100 pounds. What I am most proud of is that while teaching, I was able in my school, to form groups and clubs, where all of my students could come to talk, encourage one another and feel accepted no matter their size, color, height, or anything else.
We began lunchtime Peer Mediation and Conflict Resolution groups open to all; and the news traveled quickly. By the following year, we had written our own stories and compiled them in a student play called Choices! Although we kept each story anonymous, we held auditions and performed this for the entire school. The local newspaper did a story on us and a local theater producer wanted to spread our stories even further. Funded by Bell Telephone, my students and I were hired for the summer to film for an educational Teachers Packet to be distributed to schools throughout the United States free of charge, so they could easily implement such programs in their school. We got calls and letters from all over the country thanking us for telling our stories. It was a bonus when the following year, the producer submitted Choices for a regional Emmy Award -and we won!
I have always believed ever since that first incident in third grade, that wherever you have been hurt the most is where God will use you to help others the most. You can have sympathy for other people going through a problem, but you have empathy for them when you’ve been there yourself. Perhaps that is why I have always loved the “underdog” and the kids who just didn’t seem to fit in. Perhaps that’s why I so wanted to help initiate The Alternative School in our district and mine was the first classroom to host full inclusion special needs students. I cried when I became Teacher of the Year; my students were the real award winners.
Several years later, upon retirement, I was one of five teachers nationwide inducted into the National Teachers Hall Of Fame. I now use that as a platform to speak in schools throughout the world about the importance of each child. Because my tender little heart was pierced by a mean name someone called me when I was only eight, I learned how to not waste the pain; where you’ve been hurt, help others. Once you have learned to be an over comer, you will be so much more motivated and capable of helping others. The boy who called me Fatso apologized many years later. But I had already forgiven him many years before. He didn’t know the ugly name that he called me would make me better – not bitter.
Thousands of people have now heard “my story”; maybe, just maybe, there are thousands more waiting to hear yours. Once you know how special and unique you are, you will truly believe the words of Dr. Seuss: Thousands of people have now heard “my story”; and just maybe, there are thousands more waiting to hear yours. Once you know how special and unique you are, you will truly believe the words of Dr. Seuss:
“Today you are You, that is truer than true.
There is no one alive who is “Youer” than You.”
What will you allow you to do?
Dr. Debra Peppers, a professional speaker for 25 years, is one of only five inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame, which followed her retirement from Lindbergh High School. A member of the National Speakers Association, she has traveled to all 50 states and 60 countries teaching others that if she can go from being a 250-pound high school dropout, to Teacher of the Year there is hope for every child and adult. Her web site is http://www.pepperseed.org.