My guest blogger today is Kathy English, one of the very first people I met in the Blogosphere. Or, I guess I was directed to her. Her blog, The Mom Crusades, is filled with funny peeves and basically daily, snarky observations about parenting. Kathy has had a tough year. Last November, her then 9-year-old son was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After surgery, hospitalization, radiation, chemotherapy and endless doctor’s appointments, some semblance of normalcy has been restored. Kinda. I was surprised and appreciative when Kathy volunteered to write a teacher memory. She has such an open heart.
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Mrs. Schmidt’s Wonderful World
In sixth grade, I attended a school with three middle school grades sharing the high school building. As a new kid, I quickly learned to avoid the seniors’ hallway, to avoid the principal as he was quick to paddle students for wrong-doings (yes, principals were equipped with wooden paddles back in the day, and they used them). It was the first year I would rotate classrooms, and I had to memorize where all my classes would be and in what order.
I wasn’t ready.
By sheer rotten luck, I was placed in the class of a teacher who’d had one of my sisters a few years earlier. He was one of those people you look at and wonder, “How the heck did THAT guy ever get to be a teacher?” A toothpick grew permanently out of the corner of his mouth, he was sarcastic, and he talked to us with the vocal inflection that automatically let us know he thought we were “duh-mb.”
By sheer blessed luck, a counselor entered my room on the second day of school and asked for volunteers to switch into a self-contained sixth grade classroom in order to even out class sizes. My hand shot up in the air so fast, I felt like I could have touched the ceiling. I had chosen to sit in the back of the room, hoping to avoid the attention of the teacher, but there I was, practically jumping up and down in my seat, Arnold Horseshack style. (Young’uns can google that reference. He’s from the old TV show Welcome Back, Kotter!)
The counselor selected a handful of us, and we grabbed our books and headed down the hall to the wonderful world of Mrs. Schmidt, sixth grade teacher. Mrs. Schmidt was tall and slender, with wild red curly hair, and a commanding presence. She was ready for business from day one, and guided all of us with a firm hand, a sense of humor, and sternness when necessary.
While other kids might have thought it strange that we didn’t change classes or have different teachers, we were in our own little world with Mrs. Schmidt: caught in a happy cocoon of elementary school-like security and sixth grade learning.
During the last week of sixth grade, the school was prepared to hand out various awards at a school-wide assembly. The ever-perceptive Mrs. Schmidt knew that there would be many of us who – literally – didn’t make the grade and would not receive any of those awards. In my scrapbook, I still have four, faded-purple dittoed awards – outlined in crayon and glued onto construction paper, all made by hand and personally signed by Mrs. Schmidt. What are they for? “Scientific Achievement” and “Social Studies Skills”; another stated I was the “Royal Highness of Reading” and declared that I possessed the “Imagination to Travel anywhere and everywhere in the Kingdom of Infinity.” I also earned the award for “Clever Wit.”
Each of the 30 or so students in the class was given at least as many personal awards from Mrs. Schmidt, each read aloud joyfully before being presented, as if it were the first time our teacher had ever given such awards to anyone.
Mrs. Schmidt had a knack for making everyone feel special, for recognizing the individuality in each student and finding a way to nurture it. She was certainly a tough act to follow.
Every time end-of-the-year school award ceremonies roll around, I remember Mrs. Schmidt and how she found something personal about each of her students – to let them know they were recognized and appreciated.
Did you ever win any goofy awards at school? What did you win?