It’s not uncommon for a community our size to have several major educational projects under way. New schools and new additions are necessary and important to give children the best start possible. Recently, I thought back over my own early school experiences and the moments that have stayed with me after many years.
Back at school after a bout with the chicken pox, I had just finished an art project that my classmates had completed the week before. My teacher leaned over my shoulder. She didn’t say a word, but took me by the hand with the determination of one who is about to teach a very important lesson.
She led me to the artwork displayed on the whitewashed basement walls of my kindergarten classroom. She pointed with her teacher finger at the drawings of smiling teddy bears dressed in bright outfits colored by my fellow 5-year-olds.
My teacher was the kind of old-fashioned, clunky-shoed, pursed-lipped authority figure who held strictly to the theory of tough love for kindergartners.
In her no-nonsense voice, she scolded me as she compared my teddy bear’s plain red shirt and blue jeans to other pictures of bears wearing striped and checkered shirts, and pants with polka dots.
She dropped my hand. The lesson was over. And I must say, I learned a lot that day. I learned that jerking a child across a room to criticize her work is wrong. A teacher’s hands are meant to encourage. Her hands are meant for clapping at a student’s accomplishments, for hugging, for consoling, for nurturing.
My first-grade teacher was an older, organized, rule dispenser. One of my classmates, Ann, was always late. Most everyone walked to and from school in those days.
One afternoon, Ann was late again returning to school after lunch. The teacher announced to the class that actions have consequences, and we would all miss our afternoon recess because of Ann’s tardiness. Really?
Did our teacher think the class would gang up on Ann and teach her a lesson? Was Ann supposed to feel such remorse at disappointing all her classmates that she would decide never to be late again?
As I look back on my first-grade year, that one moment of treating Ann so unjustly stands out above all others. Teachers have tremendous influence over children’s lives.
Thank goodness for second grade! Mrs. Stanley believed in and supported the efforts of all her students. We respected and loved her in return. She is one of the reasons I became a teacher.
That second-grade year, we practiced ducking under our desks in case of an atomic bomb, and we all got our polio shots in the basement of our school.
In Mrs. Stanley’s room, we were encouraged to produce classroom plays and sing and dance, in addition to learning the core curriculum. Of course, we learned all the necessary academics, because the classroom was such a wonderful, positive and rewarding place to be.
In third grade, my teacher read “The Jungle Book” to us, and I realized that books held unexpected treasures. She allowed me to help another student with his spelling work, and that nurtured my desire to teach someday. She was kind and never raised her voice. I knew, even at that young age, that she cared about each of us as individuals.
In fourth grade, my teacher was not a happy person. She had a sharp tongue and seldom praised us. One day, she asked Sue to read the time on our classroom clock. Sue struggled and stammered and gave an incorrect answer. She was berated in front of her fellow classmates, and another lifelong lesson was dispensed.
I learned to rarely raise my hand in class that year in case my answer was wrong. I learned how to tell time, not because it was useful, but out of fear of meeting Sue’s fate in front of others.
Fifth grade was glorious! Mrs. Abernathy loved teaching, and we loved her. Her methods may have been no-nonsense, but she had so much knowledge to dispense and such energy to excite her learners that it was contagious.
We studied Magellan and the spice routes. We were supported as we attempted to write extensive prose and creative poetry, to perfect our cursive, to speak in front of the class and to read lots and lots of books. For the first time, I was encouraged to question and explore different points of view.
Teachers touch lives and have lasting effects on all of us, whether at the elementary, secondary or university level.
Modern schools and state-of-the-art tech systems are necessary for tomorrow’s students, but the teachers we place in those classrooms are what the learning and memories will be about.