The first time I spoke with Claire Ratfield nearly a decade ago, she chased me down a school corridor, breathless, skirt flapping, her raspy voice calling out that she had to speak to me about my oldest son, who had just started sixth grade in her class at Lincoln Elementary School in Corona del Mar.
Uh-oh, this can't be good, I thought, and took a reflexive step back.
"I have to tell you," she panted, "I love your son."
She proceeded to tell me a story, "The Brilliant Thing My Son Said," and went on to describe him in such accurate detail it was as if she'd known him since birth.
I would soon come to know that such moments are vintage Claire.
At 64, the flame-haired iconoclast, a one-time stand-up comic, is a teacher like no other. In her eyes, all children have talent and promise, and she works feverishly — often in unconventional ways — to help them flourish. She has taught in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District for 41 years — one of only two teachers to reach that mark — and in that time no student who has walked through her door has ever been quite the same.