Yes, it was a long time ago. It was a VERY long time ago. Elementary school ended at the ripe old age of twelve, or said differently, at sixth grade. Looking back, there was yet, so much to learn. At the time, it seemed like I knew nearly everything which was truly important to know.
Though I had yet to be introduced to the finer issues of trigonometry, I was already fluent in the issues of life: how to detect the difference between the good people and the not-so-good. There were kids to avoid on the playground at recess. Mom said we are judged by the company we keep.
Look in your holding cell on a Saturday night and you know that is one of life’s truisms.
There were people of authority (a/k/a: teachers) who drew me like a magnet and others who repulsed me like a puddle of vomit. Look at the supervisors and bosses with whom you must interact on the job and that axiom remains true to this day.
HOW DID HE BECOME A TEACHER?
Mr. P. taught fifth grade. At that time of my educational experience, I pretty much stayed in one classroom for the day with the exceptions of gym and music classes. Occasionally, on a trip to the boys bathroom, I would pass by the classroom of Mr. P.
That could be a disgusting experience if he was in the process of reprimanding a young male student for a transgression which had angered him. There would be loud yelling, . There would be demeaning insults. There would likely be the sound of the youngster’s body hitting one of the bulletin-board covered walls. I’d feel badly for the kid, even though I didn’t know his identity. (Teachers could do those kinds of things back then.)
I was only a mere child in third or fourth grade, then. But, I knew that I certainly DID NOT want to be in the classroom of Mr. P. for a whole school year. I knew that I couldn’t be good enough for an entire year to escape the miserable trauma of one of his tirades.
WHO WAS THE BEST?
I attended a high school reunion a few months ago. I spent the evening enthralled in conversation with a few folks that I had known since first grade. .) The girl who was the object of my first love (in second grade), asked: who was the best teacher you had in elementary school?
I blurted out the answer, knowing it instinctively: Mrs. Hendricks. There could be no doubt. She taught sixth grade – our final year in elementary school – the one which would launch us into the adult world of Junior High School the following year. It was her job to ensure that we were ready for the Big Time.
She was strict. She didn’t have many rules, but you’d better not even bend (much less break) the few that she did have. She insisted that we perform at the limit of our individual ability – or just a tad beyond it. She didn’t accept excuses for poor performance. She expected the best and was truly disappointed when we failed to meet the mark. She took a personal interest in each one of her students, on an individual basis.
Of course, she knew our all of our names. She even knew the names of our siblings. She had spent her own time to get to know our parents. She invested her time without limit to be certain that her students had the best learning environment, the best tools, the best materials and above all: the best support a teacher could ever give her students.
Did she have a ruler that could whack an errant student, when needed? You bet she did. Did it get used often? Hardly ever.
I was only twelve years old. But, I knew “good stuff” when I saw it.
Upon learning that I was assigned to her class in the fall, I entered with some trepidation. That year would not be easy. I wouldn’t skate by on my laurels. Not with Mrs. Hendricks. But, I also knew that I wouldn’t be embarrassed, demeaned, belittled or treated poorly by a teacher who had the authority (but not the personal constitution) to do all of those things.