Tag Archives: Teachers

These James Whitcomb Riley Days

My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Baker, read James Whitcomb Riley poems, along with other Hoosier literature, after noon recess every day.

She brought poems and stories to life in a way that made my ears and mind tingle.

However, she enforced “rest time.” We had to lay our heads on our desks while she read, an indignity that smacked of kindergarten naptime. After all, we were nine-year-olds, soon to reach double digits.

We didn’t need any dumb rest time.

Decades later, I realized that after policing a playground resembling a crash derby without cars, then facing a similar classroom scenario, she might need the break.

Not all of Riley’s poems topped my “favorites” list. Braver classmates asked Mrs. Baker to read “Little Orphant Annie.” Why did they like those repeated references to “gobble-uns” that would get us if we didn’t shape up?

I already slept with my knees near my shoulders to avoid giant spiders lurking at the foot of my bed. Adding gobble-uns to my nighttime freak-out list didn’t induce much sleep.

Even more frightening, Little Orphant Annie had to do lots of housework.

The James Whitcomb Riley poem I liked best was “When the Frost Is on the Punkin’,” which celebrates autumn in Indiana. That poem tasted good, like tangy cider, and still does:

“But the air’s so appetizin’; and the landscape through the haze
Of a crisp and sunny morning of the airly autumn days
Is a pictur’ that no painter has the colorin’ to mock
When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.”

However, James Whitcomb Riley never would have received an A on a grammar test. He would have been the very first down in a spelling bee.

Mrs. Baker and other teachers deluged us with homework, tests and even demerits to ensure my classmates and I spoke and wrote correctly.

Yet my teacher read us his poems almost daily.

Grown-ups never made sense.

Despite my confusion, James Whitcomb Riley’s magic sang in my head and heart. A Hoosier like me, he wrote about the land and life I knew and loved. He instilled pride into us for who we were — kids in a country school in a county where farmers helped feed a nation and the world.

His poems still resonate with me, especially on a crisp, fall Indiana morning with a shimmer of silver on my lawn, and gold, russet, and scarlet leaves flying in the chilly, sunny breeze. James Whitcomb Riley still reminds me of all I cherish in my native state.

Even if he didn’t know how to spell.

 

 

Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Did your childhood teachers read to you? What was your favorite read-aloud story/poem?

 

Driven Crazy!

CarMomGirl2Our children are grown, and their offspring have not yet reached their teens—a comfortable stage for all involved.

But that will change the day their oldest turns 16.

How can I forget that era? Our teens learned to drive. My husband and I learned to pray.

Our kids were responsible. So why did the sight of a driver’s education car squeeze my stomach even more than the course fees?

Some blame rests on Mr. Doom, my long-ago driver education teacher. His first words: “I don’t like women drivers.”

Among four 16-year-olds, we could not scrape up a single Y chromosome. If we girls took driver’s ed today, we could sue him for sexual harassment and his hideous neckties.

Instead, we gulped meekly and tried our best to kill him.

My friend Linda eclipsed us all by wrecking the department’s new 1970 Cutlass (odometer reading: 11 miles).

I attempted to console her: “You did what he said.”

How could Linda know that when Mr. Doom ordered, “Pull over,” he meant after we passed the telephone pole?

His inspirational thought for the day: “You’re all going to die within 10 years.”

But I survived. I even lived to list my minivan as my legal address during our children’s school years.

But me, their unofficial driving instructor? It was like Homer Simpson giving sensitivity lessons.

I did discover excellent practice sites. The first was our church parking lot. I felt Cemeterycloser to God there.

I found our second driving course at the cemetery, where most of the people were already dead.

Such parental dedication contributed to eventual success: all our children obtained drivers’ licenses. No longer did I drag out of bed to retrieve a teen worker at midnight. Nor did I risk mugging as I dozed in a dark parking lot, awaiting the end of a youth lock-in.

Instead, we parents languished at home, monitoring car rates on the Insurance Channel.

We were proud of our children’s safe driving records, though, crediting superior instruction, constant practice and boring cars. When our grandchildren turn 16, Steve and I will highly recommend the latter as an efficient means of ruining their fun.

Their parents will recall our shopping for their first cars. Chunky and colorless, the perfect choice sat, an empty space on either side (the other cars didn’t want to hang around it). The car had visited only the grocery, library and church with its aged owner. It had forgotten how to drive above 55.

bmw-dashboardYes, sirree, their dad and I had found the car. Teens couldn’t sin in that car if they had to.

Could they?

If they did, they’re still not telling.

 

How about your first car? Anything you’re not telling your folks, either?

 

This Was for My Health?

DCF 1.0

We’ve all heard word trios that drop on our heads like clusters of miniature anvils. You are overdrawn. The IRS called. What’s our deductible?

But the three words on my adult college registration eclipsed them all.

Dress for exercise. Dress for exercise?

“Lifetime Physical Awareness is required for everybody,” my college adviser insisted.

“But I’m already aware,” I whined. “My knees crack and I injured my back reading the newspaper. Why should I throw away perfectly good money to find out what I already know?—my abs of steel are flabs I conceal.

“I refuse to play soccer with 18-year-olds.” I crossed my arms. “Those people think varicose veins are a new rock band.”

I couldn’t change her mind.

At first, I felt encouraged. Our instructor, a Nice Young Man (over-50 translation for Hunk), prayed for our health and well-being. A Christian college has its advantages; I could use divine help, especially since one glance told me I was at least ten years older than any of my co-sufferers.

He prayed, his voice full of understanding and compassion.

Then he proceeded to kill me.

“Okay, let’s hit the weight room!”

I stared at one of the machines.

It smirked back at me. Deep in its shiny metal innards, it knew the truth: to me, heaven presents no mystery, compared to the incomprehensible operation of any and all machines. But I refused to be defeated by a lower species. I grasped the machine’s cold, skeletal limbs and yanked them toward my chest. The machine fought back, but with grim determination, I conquered my opponent.

I had nearly completed a whole set when the instructor interrupted me. Would I please stop wrestling with the equipment rack?

He stuck close to me after that, introducing me one by one to various torture devices:  machines that bent my biceps, pulled my pectorals, decreased my height, reversed my elbow direction. I lay on the floor panting, my tongue hanging out.

“Can you believe it?” I asked my adviser later, after describing my brush with death by machinery. “To top it all off, we spent the last class session talking about managing stress. I’ll tell you about stress. Taking ‘Slow Execution 101.’”

My adviser looked up from her schedule of classes. “You’re mistaken,” she said. “That course is required next semester.”

 

 

Cocoa for Mrs. Cole

A teacher’s daily routines require more study, planning and paperwork than a constitutional amendment. During flu season, they spend 47 percent of their income on tissues.

Such conditions might discourage applicants, even with perfect students. Educational research, however, has yet to discover a cure for classroom chaos.  As one veteran educator expressed it, children operate in reverse gears: they run when they should walk and walk when they should run. Still, teachers attempt to focus 20 or 30 little brains upon lessons, a task which resembles seven hours in a roomful of Super Balls.

Every teacher each Friday should receive a mug of dark chocolate cocoa with double whipped cream served on a silver platter by a grateful former student. (Plus a free box of tissues.)

I recall Mrs. Madge Cole, my elementary teacher, who defied our rural county’s mold. From the moment she arrived from the urban planet of Akron, Ohio, she ran grammar boot camp. She forbade “ain’t” and its essential derivatives. When a freckle-faced child of the cornfields asked, “I hain’t got a Kleenex; cain’t I use my sleeve?” Mrs. Cole fixed said student with a fishy green eye and marked triple demerits in her Grade Book of Doom.

My parents never used the area’s vernacular, so I hadn’t absorbed it. At school, though, I salted my speech with local color to keep from being different, which struck more terror into my heart than the school lunch. When Mrs. Cole came to town, I dropped the habit—fast.

She took no interest in popularity polls. Mrs. Cole gave daily social studies quizzes. As the year wore on, she added notches to her six-shooter. Our class celebrated school’s end with wild relief—until we learned Mrs. Cole, too, had been promoted and would teach us the following year.

Later, attending a high school of 3,000, I could speak well. I could write well. I could look a test in the eye and spit in its face. Mrs. Cole had done us ingrates favors far beyond knowing the date Magellan sailed.

I lost track of my teacher. I wish now I could surprise Mrs. Cole in her classroom some war-weary Friday, grading those quizzes. I’d take her a big mug of hot cocoa with oodles of whipped cream and thank her—again and again. Give her two boxes of tissues.

Afterward, I’d whisper, “I ain’t never had a teacher like you since, Mrs. Cole.”

Then check over my shoulder to see if she heard me.

How about you? Did a certain teacher make a big difference in your life?