Monday, May 2, 2011

Teacher Appreciation

I was going to post something really insightful and wise about the death of Osama Bin Laden.  The internet is smoking today with people commenting, so I don't feel that I need to add to the mix.  Before I write about a non-Osama topic, I will sum up my thoughts with a quote from Mark Twain: “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.”

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week.  I had the idea to talk about some of the teachers I have had in the nine different schools I went to all over the world.  I can’t put my finger on one particular teacher who played a pivotal part in forming who I am.  Perhaps a little cocktail party at my house for all of them together would celebrate who they are and their collaboration in shaping the person I am today.

When we first moved to Tokyo, I went to a three-day-a-week kindergarten at the American School in Japan.  There were two teachers: Mrs. McCleod and Mrs. Van Kleek.  Mrs. McCleod was a motherly type, a little serious, but warm.  Mrs. Van Kleek was hot.  She had a huge beehive hairdo, and I remember thinking she could have been a beauty pageant winner.  Mrs. McLeod was the one who punished me when I threw a rock off the top of the slide and hit a boy on the head.  I had to lie on my mat, crying my eyes out, while the others had art.  I learned a lesson that day.  But she patiently explained why I was being punished and I didn’t hold it against her.  (It was an accident, I swear!)

My teacher in first grade was Mrs. Cromartie.  She was African-American.  There was a little boy in my class who, having lived overseas all his life, had never seen a black person before. When he came home after the first day, his mother asked him how he liked his teacher.  He replied, “Oh she is so pretty!  She has the nicest tan!”  Now that is the story my mother told me.  Whether or not it’s true, I’ll never know. 

Mrs. Cromartie taught me an important lesson about lying.  Being the youngest of three, I was desperate for a little brother or sister.  Instead of an imaginary friend, I invented an imaginary little sister.  Her name was Zoe.  Whenever friends came over to play, they would ask to see her, but I would say she was sleeping.  The charade carried over into school, and I told my teacher all kinds of creative things about Zoe.  The gig was up when my parents attended parent-teacher night, and Mrs. Cromartie asked how the new baby was doing.  Mrs. C. never looked at me the same way after that.  When a student had a birthday, she would write their names on the board.  I don’t think she wrote my name on the board on my birthday.  The shame still makes me blush.

Mrs. Larrigan was my second grade teacher.  I thought she was beautiful.  It was in her class that I learned about money.  We set up a make-believe store, complete with empty cans and boxes of food.  We had a cash register and we would make change and add long columns of figures.

Our little grocery store.

In third grade we moved from Tokyo to Westport, Connecticut.  My school was Saugatuck Elementary, a traditional little red schoolhouse with a real bell in a belfry on the roof.  I remember the feel of the wooden floors under my feet, and the smell of crayons and paint.  Mrs. Asquith was a grandmotherly woman, kind but firm.  We each had a little plastic bucket on our desks, and we watched mealworms transform from worms to pupae to beetles.  We had speed spelling tests and I learned to read under her tutelage. I remember going to the book fair that year, and Hardie Gramatky was there, the author of the "Little Toot" books.  I still have an autographed copy of "Little Toot on the Grand Canal".

Another move in fourth grade took us to Baton Rouge, where I attended Audubon Elementary School.  Mrs. Thornton was my teacher, another kindly grandmother.  That year is a little fuzzy for me.  All I remember is that one of my classmates got shot in the lung with a bb gun.  I remember the blue doors that lead right out onto the playground, and sitting on the floor while Mrs. Thornton read to us.

Fifth and sixth grade were spent at the International School in Brussels.  Mrs. Buegman was my fifth grade teacher.  She was Belgian, and had a beautiful accent.  She was matter-of-fact.  It was here that I was introduced to the SRA Basal Reader.  I think my report card said that I rushed through my class work so I could go read the SRA cards or a book from the library.  A ha!  There lies the genesis of my lifelong addiction to reading.

Miss Kay was our sixth grade teacher.  She was young, unmarried and enthusiastic.  She read “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “Little House in the Big Woods” aloud to us.  She taught us about how light travels in a straight line, but can be bent with prisms and solid surfaces.  I’ll never forget how the boys and girls were separated for a lesson on “the facts of life”.  She drew a sanitary pad on the blackboard, right as the principal knocked on the door.  She started to go to the door, realized what was on the board, and quickly ran back to erase it before she let Mr. Sedgwick in.  Once we were required to do a demonstrative speech to the class, and I showed everyone how to do cross-stitch. 

Of course, starting in 7th grade, we had many teachers.  I can’t remember them all.  In Manila, one that stands out is Vicky Herrera, who taught Creative Writing.  I think she sparked the writer in me, and I believe she reads this blog even today.  Mrs. Valles was my theater teacher.  I remember having to kiss a boy as part of a skit we were doing.  (Good thing he was cute).  Monty Swiryn taught me the basics of research.  In Mrs. Belen’s algebra class I earned the only “D” in my high school career, but it wasn’t her fault!  I’m just algebra-challenged.  I became interested in chemistry thanks to Miss Trinidad.  Of course I can’t name them all, but I remember them all with great fondness and respect.

I wish I could give them all a little plant or a scented candle today.  Or a gift card to Starbucks.  But such a small token would never express my gratitude.  Very simply, a very big thank you to you all, wherever you are.

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