Elementary teachers make or break a kid’s year

Tom West, West Words
Tom West, West Words

When I was growing up, the most important week of the year was this week. School began the day after Labor Day, and it was the week before when the class rosters for each teacher were posted.

It was then that one’s fate for one, long year became known. Was the teacher strict? Was she mean? Was she easy? Nice? In elementary-aged brains, it could be boiled down to one or two words.

I had two kindergarten teachers. I no longer remember if the first was named Miss Halverson or Mrs. Halverson, but she got married halfway through the year and stopped teaching.

I don’t know if she was forced to resign or not. That happened 100 years ago, I’m told, but I don’t know if it was still going on. My recollection is that Miss Halverson was nice.

She was replaced by Miss or Mrs. Wasbutton. My only remembrance of her was the day she became ill, fainting while we were sitting around her while she played the piano.

She fell with a thud, and nobody did anything for a while. A few kids cried, but my memory is that for 10 minutes we didn’t do anything.

When she didn’t get up, eventually two girls decided they should tell the nurse.

Suddenly there was action, and the school principal came in and sat with us until a substitute could be found. A few days later, the teacher returned to work no worse for wear.

My first-grade teacher, was nice, although she did take exception when I started returning late from lunch. Lunch lasted a full 55 minutes then (It was later shortened to 30 minutes after a high school student was killed in a car accident over the lunch hour), so I went home. My brother, who was in high school, came home a half hour later.

When the World Series began, being shown on TV for the first time, at least in our home, we watched together and then walked back to school together. He was on time, but my teacher sent out an APB when I wasn’t in my seat when class resumed. After the second day, my parents were contacted. I didn’t get to see the remainder of the Series.

In second grade, my teacher was also nice, but I learned that life isn’t fair. A girl accused my best friend and me of throwing snowballs at her. I have been guilty of many things, but in this instance, not only did I not throw the snowballs, I wasn’t even present at the scene of the crime. My best friend was, but was unwilling to rat out his accomplice. Thus, even though I loudly proclaimed my innocence, my parents sided with the law (meaning the school), and I had to stay after for a few days.

My third grade teacher, was nice but strict. Only a year or two out of college, she was the only “young” teacher I had in elementary school. She also had good days and bad days. One bad day, she got upset with kids talking while we waited in line at the water fountain after recess, and we all had to stay after school for a good half hour, writing a very long sentence repeatedly that said we would behave.

But I also recall one time while we were all standing by our desks (maybe for the Pledge of Allegiance). I spied the instructional sheet in the waste basket for the Weekly Reader newspaper. I knew the notes usually had a few jokes in them, so, because my desk was next to the basket, I grabbed it before I sat down.

I slipped it into my reading book and was reading the jokes instead of my lesson. I didn’t know that she had seen my action until I saw kids in the front of the room looking back at me.

I looked out of the corner of my eye, and only then saw she was looking over my shoulder. When I looked up, she couldn’t hold it any longer, and burst out laughing. They must have been good jokes.

My fourth-grade teacher was mean. Honestly, I admit the highlights of the year came on the first day of school when she slipped on the newly-waxed hall floor and fractured her forearm, and then in mid-winter when, during a fire drill, she slipped on the ice and broke it again.

It was only during her recuperations that we had any relief. I saw her drag a girl from her desk by her hair, and I remember being banished to the hallway because I hadn’t finished a spelling lesson.

I thought the punishment unjustified. My parents had taken me from school for two weeks while my father attended a convention in San Antonio. My parents thought, correctly, that I would learn more on a drive that took us as far south as Mexico, than in her classroom.

I hadn’t missed any school up to that point. When I returned, I did the two spelling lessons I had missed first, but not the current one. As I walked to my hallway banishment, she sneered, “You must think you’re a big shot because you went to Texas.”

I hope nobody remembers me for acting that way toward a child.

My fifth-grade teacher was easy. I’m not saying we got away with murder, but our classroom was in the basement of a bank because of baby boomer overcrowding, so she was probably just trying to survive while we all breathed diesel fumes as semis idled 30 feet away, waiting for a stoplight to change.

And my sixth-grade teacher was strict. I think a sixth-grade teacher has to be, considering how knowledgeable 12-year-olds think they are on how things should be.

However, I saw a different side of her after her mother died during the school year. When she came back from the funeral, we students had taken up a collection and presented her with some flowers. Tough as she was, she cried right in front of us.

I am sure that they taught me many good things, like how to read, add, and subtract, but it is strange what I remember.

The fact that I remember them at all, however, shows how important they were in my life.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 632-2345 or by e-mail at [email protected].