Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Teachers, Part 1

Some teachers are remembered fondly, others not so much. I was reminded this week how one of my favorite pasttimes has its roots in an assignment made by a teacher that I despised. Much as I hate to admit that the man has had a lasting influence on me, it is unfortunately a fact that such is the case. Maybe I would have gravitated to the hobby naturally on my own; however, it was Mr. B who initially focused my attention on the addiction that is genealogy. I got to thinking about other teachers in my past and their lasting presence (or absence) in my life today. So, permit me a few digressions on my educational past.

First the rules. Those I remember fondly will get credit. Those I remember with less enthusiasm will be identified by initials only.

Mrs. Gertrude Tillman taught me to read. Definitely on my plus list. She was a sweet woman and a great start to my educational years. She seemed ancient to me at the time, but she was a middle-aged 61 when we met. She was a born teacher. My clearest memories of first grade, back in 1960, was reading. I can remember her sitting with a small circle of us, patiently guiding us through the forest of words. I can remember her setting up a chart with our names and putting a little cut-out book beside our name every time we completed reading a book on our own. I had a very long line of little books beside my name at the end of the year. Everything I've accomplished in my life has its roots in learning to read with Mrs. Tillman.

Mrs. B, my second grade teacher, I remember hardly at all. I'm surprised I even remember her name. The year I entered second grade, the third grade was bursting at the seams. The solution was to split the third grade and move half of them in with us, since the second grade was small. Mrs. B ended up devoting most of the year to working with the third graders and pretty much left us second graders adrift. I can't remember anything about that year that matters, except I spent two weeks at home with the mumps and I played a dancing doll in the Christmas pagent. I can't remember doing any school work, but I do remember a lot of chatter among the students and a lot of art work. I have one dim memory of Mrs. B showing me how to put a pretty edge on a picture I was cutting out from a magazine. Aside from that, I can't remember any relationship with the woman at all.

Third grade occurred in a different school. Mrs. P spent the first six weeks we were together mispronouncing my name. I never quite forgave her for that. Her teaching methods left something to be desired, but I do remember learning a few things. An improvement over the previous year, though not by much. Mrs. P divided the class in groups according to the row you sat in. She would post work to be done on the blackboard first thing in the morning and then would work with each group of students in turn in their reading, while the remaining students worked on the posted assignments. We actually made friends toward the end of the year, but she was not an easy woman to warm to and she just couldn't seem to get it straight how to say my name. One lasting influence she had on me was not really her fault. The Victoria schools taught cursive writing in fourth grade. When we left Victoria and moved to Smiley at the end of the year, I learned that cursive writing was taught in third grade in Smiley. So, having slipped into an educational crack, I basically taught myself cursive writing.

"Miss Reba" Bundick was a good teacher. She had taught nearly everyone that lived in Smiley and knew what she was doing. I can remember lessons about Ecuador, long division, and being groomed for the U.I.L. Picture Memory contest. And, of course, that was the year I became proficient in Roman Numerals, though it was Coach M who taught me that and not Miss Reba. Miss Reba was another born teacher and not only taught us well, but also encouraged our creative sides. I can remember being mortified that I just could not seem to grasp the concept of long division and being kept in at recess as a result. But the extra individual attention she was able to give during that time finally got me over the hurdle. Miss Reba was a force and a character that caused grown men to tremble in her wake. Her college ring was a large ring intended for male graduates and she would rap it against her desk to get our attention. She retired not too many years after my sojourn in her kingdom, but her influence was felt for several generations of Smiley citizens.

Fifth grade came along and I had my first male teacher, Mr. K. The thing that sticks out in my mind about fifth grade is that my focus took a holiday. I had a hard time remembering assignments and I seemed to be moving in my own little orbit that year. I maintained my grades, so I can only surmise that for some reason I was either bored or unchallenged and creating my own mental exercises that kept me distracted from what was going on in the classroom. Weird year. Can't remember too much about Mr. K. Can't remember much of anything about that year. I do recall that he threatened to give licks to a group of girls at one point, which scandalized the entire class. He was pretty attached to that paddle board and used it frequently on the boys.

Thus ended my elementary years. Two winners, one loser and a couple of draws.


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