Monday, November 12, 2012

School Days

Littlefield High School, Lumberton, NC
December 21, 2006 -  6:41 AM

Flashback to 7 years old... I was a student in Miss Herring's combination second/third grade class... Miss Herring was a young lady, a perfectly good teacher, but not particularly inspiring. She was a slick one...she'd leave the room for a few minutes, for whatever reason, leave someone taking names--and of course while she was gone, the one taking names would promise not to tell on anyone (unless it was someone she didn't like)--but Miss Herring would sneak in on cat's feet, quiet as a mouse, and she would catch the talkative culprits (me, among others, on occasion) herself.

Another vivid memory from second grade: On a November day, we were all sitting working quietly, when we noticed that the school buses were coming back from the high school a couple of hours early. (They normally spent the day there, as the drivers were high school students, and returned to our elementary school only when it was time to go home.) We wondered about it, but didn't attach a lot of importance to it, until there came a knock at the door. Miss Herring moved silently to the door, and as someone whispered something, we saw her hand move up to her mouth. She stepped back into the classroom, and for the first time, I actually saw someone's face turn from a ruddy pink to chalk-white. In a quiet, shocked voice, she announced to the class that President John F. Kennedy had just been shot, and we were all being sent home.

Fast forward to 8 years old... and I found myself once again in Miss Herring's class--this time a combination third/fourth grade class. While I had no hard feelings toward Miss Herring, it simply wasn't natural to have the same teacher twice if you hadn't failed your grade... I was privately terribly anxious that she would keep moving up every year and follow us from second grade to eighth. The thing that really bothered me about this was that my sisters and brothers had all had Mrs. Rich for fourth grade.  Mrs. Rich was a statuesque silver-haired lady with sparkling blue eyes, a warm smile, and skin that looked as soft as velvet. She must have been in her sixties. She was the principal's wife, and she smiled at me and spoke to me every day at recess on the playground. By the end of third grade, I was feeling resigned to Miss Herring's class forever, and so sad that I'd never get to be in Mrs. Rich's class.

But fourth grade arrived, I turned 9 years old, and to my great delight, I was assigned to Mrs. Rich's class! She was a demanding taskmaster, but she worked every bit as hard as we did. She took the time to know each of us. She told us stories about her mother and Mr. Rich, as she always called him when she talked to us. In those days, I loved school, and I wanted to be just like Mrs. Rich when I grew up. I particularly like geography, even though she gave us loads of homework. And we used The Weekly Reader, which opened up the world tremendously to a group of children who had seldom been outside a hundred-mile radius of their place of birth.  One weekly assignment I always enjoyed was to write a story using all our spelling/vocabulary words. She gave our imaginations free rein, and while some hated having to think up anything at all, I loved it.

Mrs. Rich was the sort of teacher everyone should experience as a child. I'm so happy that I had the privilege of knowing her and learning from her. Mrs. Rich died many years ago, but I know she lives on in the hearts and minds of many, many students whose lives she touched. Our elementary school no longer exists; it burned several years ago after standing empty for a very long time. The photo above is one of my high school, taken somewhere around 1990. If you're home for Christmas, why not call one of your favorite teachers, if they're still around, to thank them for the impact they had on your life?

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