How tender is a child between six and eleven. Quick set clay ready for impression. Soft, pliable. Once hardened, easy to shatter. I remember all my elementary teachers. First grade, Miss La Valley, the one with a temper that gave me a stomachache, so I ended up in the nurse’s office or the bathroom during every reading group. Second grade, Mrs. Nottkey, the one with horse teeth who taught me to sing “America the Beautiful” and “Oh! Susanna” at a tinny piano beside the window sill where we planted beans in Dixie cups. Third grade, Mrs. Duval, the old lady with a steel bun who taught me how to make change before we got New Math books all about sets and base two numbers that confused me forever. Fourth grade, Mrs. Harrington, the New World: Marco Polo, Magellan, Balboa, Queen Elizabeth, my first role in a school play, and my first crush on the boy who played Sir Walter Raleigh. Fifth grade, Miss Spaugh, the one who read Johnny Tremain aloud after lunch and invited me, the one still reading Dr. Suess, to her wedding. Mr. Legere, my favorite, the gym teacher who included me in his Olympic Club, so I got out of class every Friday thirty minutes early. Mrs. Long, the art teacher whose primary edict was, “Don’t eat the paste or cut along the fold.” Mrs. Pry, a French war bride who brought the magic of Marseille to my dreary winter classroom and taught me grammar I didn’t know in my own language.
Student/teacher, it’s a kind of temporary arranged marriage. For 180 days, we get to know each other intimately, our strengths and weaknesses. We forge skills and hone self-image. We learn to love each other or not. It took me till adulthood to read for pleasure. Singing is a joy, especially with others, and every year I plant a garden. Although math generally gives me a headache, I still try to beat the cash register at figuring my change. As an older woman I became a teacher myself, circumnavigating the globe through my ELL students from along the Silk Road, from the political deserts and urban jungles of the New World, from every corner of collapsing colonial empires, from as far away as the mystic isles of the Pacific.
Who among my teachers knows the imprint they left for better or worse? Who among my students remembers me?