Teachers and Kids
I talked with my husband on the porch in front of the elephant ears.
“Jimmy, who was your first grade teacher?” I asked.
“Mine was Mrs. Fry.”
“So what was Mrs. Davis like?” I asked.
“Oh, she was tall and pretty. She never made fun of us if we did something stupid. We did stupid stuff all the time. She was gentle when she had to comb my curly hair. Sweet smelling. She was sweet smelling and did not smell like cigarettes.”
“Mrs. Fry was gray-haired and kind,” I said. “Maybe kinder than anyone I knew. She let me sit on the front row right in front of those huge alphabet letters. I think she liked me close to her desk.”
“Did Mrs. Davis listen well to what you had to say?” I asked.
“She did. She was a good listener. She didn’t let me get confused.”
“My Mrs. Fry had wonderful hearing, probably like you might imagine from an elephant ear in a children’s story. She not only heard me, but she heard everyone. I don’t know how she did that with so many children in the room. She had a room full of children and order. I don’t remember her ever raising her voice.”
Interesting how neither of us knew anything about our teachers’ personal lives, but we loved and respected them.
I guess our feelings toward our first teachers were based completely on how they treated us.
Both of us had teachers who sent us the message that we were capable and lovable, that we mattered, that we were acceptable, just as we were. In fact, each of us had received the message that we were special.
These messages were somehow sent to us daily for nine months, five days a week. We believed our teachers. We believed the messages.
These teachers did not eye-roll (I checked that out with my husband) or say we sounded like mules when we said ain’t. They just corrected us and moved on.
Nothing about our teachers disturbed us. They were trying to help us, to love us, to teach us.
Never did I see those early teachers twist a handkerchief in frustration. Never do I recall the teachers’ voices taking on a hard edge.
Do you recall how it was to go to recess? My husband and I recall the fun and excitement—like it was some kind of game before we even reached the playground. After climbing, jumping, running, hitting a ball, swinging, a bell would ring. Then we’d run back to teachers and classrooms.
Playgrounds could be dirt or gravel or a yellow patch of grass. It didn’t matter. Teachers with happy eyes.
I recall being flung off the merry-go-round. I guess I let go. No school nurses in those days, but a teacher “doctored” my forehead. I cried. Her cleaning the cut stung, but her gentleness said she cared.
Neither of us came from happy-dappy homes. We came from struggling-to-make-it homes where there could be gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands. So, first grade, the equivalent to kindergarten these days, may have been our happy places.
I had children’s church on Sundays, which was full of joy, but school happened five days every week. I felt lucky, and no longer was I jealous of my older brother who’d been going to school for two years before me.
Did anyone else walk to school? Or did you ride buses or cars? We interacted with nature every step of the way. Branches, dogs, pear trees, fences to climb on. No straight path for us kids.
After lunch, story time. I’d be anticipating and have a glint of excitement. Words on pages became important. My husband and I agree: books opened a new world for us.
I’ve heard people say, “Look and See” books were boring.” Not to me. I had control over those words. I could read them. That felt empowering.
I don’t think it matters much if you learned to read at three or six years old as long as you learn to read. Some people “get it” by listening. You definitely have a head-start if you have someone reading to you/with you. The earlier, the better. It’s an advantage.
Blessed are those children who have older siblings and/or parents who take the time to read with them. If you didn’t have that advantage—well, God bless those nurturing teachers.
God makes a way for all of us. He puts people in our paths to be examples and show us His way.
I still pray for kids when I see yellow school buses.
Elephant Ears in the Durmons' front yard. Photographed by Pat Durmon, September 2021.
Poetry Books by Pat Durmon