Remembering Teachers

Feb 20, 2011 | 1 comment

Sydney ‘Holds’ the Sign – Fourth Grade, 1945

     Several of my friends can name every teacher they ever had from Kindergarten through High School.  Of course, they went to a one-room schoolhouse and never changed school districts.  My family moved around a bit, so that’s my excuse for my fuzzy memories regarding school.  God forbid I wasn’t paying attention!  But a few teachers do stand out.
     Miss Thompson was the Kindergarten teacher at Edison School in Alameda, California.  She was also the principal, probably because it was 1941 and we were gearing up for war.  Women were beginning to enter the workforce in larger numbers, even taking jobs that were once considered the domain of men.  I remember Miss Thompson fondly. She taught me to read, to love school, and she looked the other way when I poured my untouched milk down the sink.
     Still in Alameda in fourth grade, I went to Lincoln School and Miss Hamilton was my teacher.  She gave me my first taste of  ‘writing essays.’  I loved essay writing!  And, in sixth grade, Mrs. (or was it Miss?) Hester  was full of “projects.”  I think I still have the booklet on South America that I made that year.  And I can still sing “Billy Boy” and tell you what a billabong is from our study of Australia.  I loved projects.
     Mr. Sonntag was my seventh grade teacher.  We had come to Oysterville for the year and I rode the school bus to Ocean Park School along with John Holway and Vernon Andrews —  or maybe he had already moved to Ocean Park.  (Oysterville School only went to sixth grade by then.)  Mr. Sonntag was the principal and also the seventh/eighth grade teacher.  He was the first “man teacher” I had ever had and under his tutelage I learned what corporal punishment was all about.  Not from any first-hand experience, though.
     I, along with everyone else in school, would hear the thumps, whacks, and his loud voice in the hall if he had to take one of the boys out of the classroom for some transgression.  Once, Bobby Coppock and I got caught kissing at lunchtime.  Bobby was the recipient of punishment in the hall.  I was told that a girl from a good family like mine shouldn’t be friendly with a boy like Bobby.  What I learned from Mr. Sonntag was that I liked “bad boys.”  Still do.
     Mrs. Barnes was my eighth grade English teacher in San Rafael, California.  I remember her as “old,” attractive, and very formal.  All business.  She never had to raise her voice – we were all totally “engaged in the learning process” as they would say in today’s parlance.  We diagrammed sentences and memorized poetry which we recited to the class on Fridays.  I learned to love words from Mrs. Barnes.
     I remember quite a few of my San Rafael High School teachers – dramatic Mrs. Paterson who made Algebra fun.  Her husband, kindly-but-boring Mr. Paterson who made geometry a chore.  Miss Giraudo, my first journalism teacher.  She was probably not much older than we were and was full of quiet enthusiasm and cheerful inspiration.  In one of those small world things, she had been a student teacher in Visalia with my mom and dad’s Redlands classmate, Carol Montague, the year before coming to our school.  She was engaged and after that first year, moved to Alaska to be married.
     Mr. Curtis took her place.  I still loved journalism but, looking back, I think his expectations were too high for me.  I remember struggling to write a weekly column for our newspaper, the Red ‘N’ White.  He filled me with determination, though, and I went on to major in journalism at Stanford.
     I think that when I finally figured out that it was teaching I was meant to do, each of those teachers contributed to the kind of teacher I was.  Probably all the unremembered ones did, too – but I don’t remember.

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Frieze

    I wish that everyone would stop to think about how their teachers influenced their lives. I had one particularly bad teacher who was eventually determined to be mentally ill. Back in those days if you complained about your teacher your folks told you to toughen up and respect even a crazy man. Now they complain if their little darling didn’t get an A, regardless of the fact that it wasn’t earned. Fortunately, I remember most of my teachers fondly. I married into a family of teachers and am the mother of one so I know first hand that it is one of the most important jobs in our country and sorely under-valued. People are concerned with having the best and brightest drawn to medicine and science, but fail to remember who gets those people there. Teachers deserve to be remunerated commensurate with the importance of their job–educating our future and then after they start funding teacher pay properly; parents need to step up to the plate and make sure homework is done and that they demonstrate the respect that teachers should have.


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