Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I Had Some Great Teachers

Today is the first day of school here in Corpus Christi. I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the first day photos that were posted on my friends' Facebook feeds. In fact, here are a few from Princess E's first week of Pre-K3.

I started first grade in 1960 at Grim Elementary School, Texarkana, Texas. We lived right across the street from the school and I was the fifth of six children, so I had been waiting impatiently a couple of years for my turn to go to school.

I remember going up the steps carrying my book satchel which contained a Big Chief tablet, with its red and black cover and its fresh lined paper and brand new pencils just waiting to be sharpened. There were also scissors that were just the right size for me with a blunt tip so I wouldn't get hurt and my first box of new crayons of my very own filled with beautiful colors, all jutting out with sharp, unbroken tips.

I was greeted at the classroom door by Miss Bertha White, my first teacher. Miss Bertha was tall and wore her hair up in a bun on top of her head. She was a wonderful teacher who taught more than the alphabet and counting. We memorized nursery rhymes and Bible verses. (It was 1960 and that was still permitted in public school.) When we did well we were rewarded with gold stars and, as they added up, we were awarded prizes like Little Golden Books that we could take home and keep.

We were taught manners and deportment. When we had to blow our nose, we were taught to take our tissue out into the hall. Miss Bertha ate lunch at the same table with us. We had to taste everything whether we liked it or not. On Mondays we got gold stars if we had gone to church on Sunday. I learned to love learning from Miss Bertha White and that shaped the rest of my school experience.

My second grade teacher was Mrs. Farr. I don't remember very much about her except that she was kind of scary. She was very stern and had a dowager's hump. But she was an excellent teacher who made us learn to respect her and each other. She did not take any sass from anyone and she did not tolerate mouthy kids. When we misbehaved, we had to write lines on the chalkboard. I only had to do it once. After I spent a couple of hours after school printing "I will not talk in class," I never spoke out of turn in her classroom again.

The summer before fifth grade we moved to Corpus Christi. I attended Menger Elementary that year. My fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Haas. Mrs. Haas was young, beautiful, tall, slender, and stylish. I adored her. She and her new husband had just honeymooned in Hawaii and she told us all about it. She even taught us how to dance the hula. She was big on rote learning. I can still recite the Preamble to the Constitution, the Concord Hymn, the Gettysburg Address, and a pretty big chunk of The Highwayman, all learned and recited in Mrs. Haas' class at Menger Elementary.

We moved again the next summer, so in sixth grade I had my first male teacher, Mr. Naeger, at Lexington Elementary. He was tall, dark and handsome and I had my first crush. He was one of the best teachers I ever had. After school he led tumbling classes, free of charge, for any kids who were interested. He talked to us about our futures. He was the first one who made me think about that. He made recordings of each of us talking about what we wanted to be when we grew up. I've always wondered what he did with those recordings. Now that I'm grown, I suspect he was working on his Masters or Doctorate and it was research, but it would be interesting to hear them now.

Once I got to Junior High School, relationships with teachers were not so close because there were so many of them, but some still stand out. At Hamlin Junior High, I had Miss Joy for 7th grade English, Mrs. Esse for Texas History, and Mr. Gaddis for Algebra. All excellent teachers. Then there was Mrs. Dunham who taught 8th grade English. She was sarcastic and hard on us. She had high expectations for her students. I loved her class.

At Ray High School, my favorites included Mrs. Wharton and Mr. Ducote who both taught Speech class. Coach Purcell, my American History teacher allowed me to grade papers in lieu of taking tests ... that was awesome. I had Mrs. Clark for both Senior English and Government, 2nd and 3rd periods. She was a great teacher who encouraged discussion. That made her one of my favorite teachers ever.

I also had a few eccentric teachers at Ray. Mr. McAllister who taught World Geography was old and distracted. He would check attendance, then when he went out in the hall to clip it to the door, half the class would leave while his back was turned. He never noticed.

Then there was Mr. Eggert, who taught Algebra 2. Mr. Eggert ate chalk. He always had it smeared pretty much all over his clothes and face. And he hated the public address system with a passion. Any time class was interrupted with an announcement, Mr. Eggert would snarl and then proceed to throw whatever happened to be in his hand at the speaker. Items that got flung included chalk, erasers, pencils, pens, textbooks, and his reading glasses. It was entertaining to say the least.

My French teacher, Madam Booth, was less than five feet tall, wore stiletto heals, and flirted unabashedly with the Spanish teacher in the classroom next door. I can only describe her as interesting. What I learned from Madam Booth was that I didn't really want to learn to speak French.

Also eccentric, but probably my absolute favorite teacher ever was Mr. Hinds (or Hynds) who taught English Literature. He never called his students by their first names. Everyone was addressed formally; I was Miss Skelton. Among his eccentricities, he insisted that the word "dinosaur" should be pronounced like "saurkraut." He led us in many meaningful discussions of some great literature. It was in his class that I learned to really love reading. I loved discussing books in his class.

These are just a few of the teachers who were important in my education and my life. I wish I could go back now and tell them how much they meant to me.

My hope for this school year is that every student gets a chance to have a great teacher who makes learning fun. Great teachers really do make all the difference.

Who was your favorite teacher and what made them special?

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  1. I started first grade in 1964 and I remember my first grade teacher- Mrs. Weeks- she wasn't much taller than we were! LOL I think I have more teachers who made a negative influence, unfortunately, but those few who did make a positive influence are still quite special to me. I quite enjoyed reading about your experiences!

  2. I remember my first day of kindergarten, but not first grade. I remember climbing atop the jungle gym at recess and being unable to get down, but not much else. I wish my memory were as sharp as yours! I loved reading about your teachers throughout the years. I've had one or two I adored. One in particular was in high school. He was the psychology teacher, named Mr. Marr, and he helped me through some horrendous times. I think of him often...and mailed him a card not all that many years ago thanking him for the difference he made in my life, though I'm not all that sure he received it.

    Great, timely post. Thank you for sharing it on the GRAND Social.

  3. I loved hearing your story and I wish I had as many memories of my teachers as you do. I think Amara has had much better teachers so far than her Grandma had and I hope this year will be another great one. Teachers really can make a huge difference in a child's life.

  4. Hopefully this comment doesn't duplicate, my computer seems to be giving me issues! I love the photos at the top and I really enjoyed your story of all of your teachers, I don't remember nearly as many of mine. I think Amara has had much better teachers than I did and I hope that will hold true again this year!

  5. I remember my first day of school which was not as traumatic on me as my first born's first day of school. I actually sat down and wrote a letter the day each of my children left for their first days. It still brings tears to my eyes to read them. Of course not so much to theirs lolol....they just roll their eyes at my sappiness. But it's all good...their days coming :-)
    Just joined your blog and had a look around. I really enjoyed it especially when I noticed you are from Texas (me too), Have Aggies in the family (we are too) and one of the grand babies was wearing Harley-Davidson (we ride too). Glad to get to know you through your blog and look forward to more of your post.
    If you get a chance check my blog out...we have alot in common.

  6. I remember some of my teachers as well. One of the reasons we choose parochial school for our own kids is because teachers are no longer permitted to teach things like scripture, deportment and citizenship. Teachers have all the responsability but none of the authority. I have a problem with that.

    BTW -- I live right down the street from Hamlin middle school!