Sunday, April 3, 2011

In praise of teachers, Part 2

Vose Elementary School, Beaverton, Oregon
Throughout childhood, I had excellent teachers for the most part. I know my parents requested particular teachers when they could. (Now of course this practice is disallowed.) I don't remember much about my preschool or kindergarten teachers, but here are some memories from elementary school:

First grade, Mrs. Lundgren: She was a petite brunette with a firm grasp of the essentials. I have positive memories of her except for my most traumatic memory from elementary school. One afternoon I stayed after school to brown nose, presumably. I went up to the chalkboard and erased everything on the be helpful. She immediately flew into a rage and spanked me because another child was copying the contents of the board...I hadn't noticed. It forever became marked in my brain as the boldest example of my intentions being misunderstood and punished when I merely thought I was being helpful. In spite of this negative memory, I liked her as a teacher. I do remember that she wrote in my first report card, "Marie is a highly social child. She needs to focus more on her classwork and less on talking to the other students." Touche!

Second grade, Miss TenPas: She was a tall, glamorous blonde--she looked like a movie starlet. That's about all I remember from second grade!

Third grade, Mr. Sposito: Stan Sposito was, by far, the coolest teacher I had. It was his first year of teaching his own class (after student teaching in my sister's class the previous year) and the years were 1972-73, toward the end of the flower child era. He looked like he walked right out of Haight Ashbury into the classroom. Tall, suave, and hip. He encouraged us to call him Stan and allowed us to come up with our own names. (I was "Renee" half of the year, and "Maria" for the second half.) We had various "stations" throughout the classroom (like a library corner with rugs and pillows), which was revolutionary back then. For the school talent show, he divided us into girl and boy bands...and taught the boys sang "Go Away Little Girl" and the girls to sing "Beautiful Sunday." I LOVED third grade.

Fourth grade, Mrs. Woodward: Mrs. Woodward was the sternest, most traditional teacher I remember, and it was my least-favorite grade. Not bad, but not as good as the other years. My most vivid memory of fourth grade was when my friend Susie and I stole some lunch tickets out of another student's desk...and then when we were discovered, we both blamed the other for the act. It was one of the great shames of my childhood that I went through a bit of kleptomania, for who knows what reason. I felt truly horrible and ashamed when we were found out. For any parent of a child who goes through a similar phase and fears for his or her child's future, I offer myself up as an example. People who know me now would describe me as deeply principled and honest in spite of this unfortunate phase.

On a more positive note, fourth grade was when my friendships with other girls really became bonded. Each recess I would go out to a small climbing structure with four sections--with my friends Colleen, Laurie, and Celia--and we would each take a section. We called ourselves the four musketeers, and we spent a great deal of time together. Sadly, I've lost touch with many of my grade school friends...I've reconnected with Celia on Facebook (she moved to the east coast but now lives in Bend, Oregon!) and had e-mail contact with Colleen sometime last year, but sadly I've lost all contact with Laurie and my partner in crime, Susie.

Fifth grade, Mrs. Pressman: Mrs. Pressman was young, classy, kind, and beautiful, with short blonde hair. Fifth grade was even better than third grade because I adored Mrs. Pressman. She was the teacher I've wrote about before, who encouraged my burgeoning feminism (by applauding the way I added "and women" to a handwriting exercise that spoke about the accomplishments of men). We had a Taiwanese student in our class that year, Phillip, who spoke not a word of English. I was touched by the way Mrs. Pressman went out of her way to include Phillip and encourage all of us to do the same. That year we had exchange students visit from Barrow, Alaska, and I had an eskimo girl come stay with me for a week. I remember doing lots of projects and events that year--such as a career fair (I was in the group of kids who wanted to be teachers for the deaf).

Mrs. Pressman had beautiful handwriting. She selected the four of us who had the best handwriting (all girls, of course!) and sent us off with her student teacher to learn calligraphy. That was the start of my fondness for the art of lettering.

I kept in constant touch with Mrs. Pressman until many years ago--I wrote to her regularly after she moved to Ketchum, Idaho (and stopped teaching to start a family), but sadly one day she stopped writing...I'm not sure why. The other day I came across a copy of On the Day You Were Born, which she had sent and inscribed to Christopher when he was a baby. I feel sad that I fell out of touch with her, and I do not know why. She was my inspiration to become a teacher.

Sixth grade, Miss Knerr: Tall, stately, with long blonde hair, I remember liking Miss Knerr but not much else about sixth grade. I do remember competing in a poetry contest with my friend Colleen (mentioned above) and winning first prize. Beyond that, I don't remember much else.

Enrichment: Miss Thune (seriously) taught music to the younger grades, but my favorite music teacher was Mrs. Smith who taught the older grades...and was my first violin teacher. I was not crazy about Mr. McGuire, the PE teacher, probably because I was not athletic and was always one of the last picked for teams (most humiliating teaching tactic--ever). We made fun of him because he practiced tai chi when we were in the midst of class. (Little I knew that he was ahead of his time.)

In junior high and high school, I remember Mrs. Grenzer (my block teacher at Highland Park Junior High), Mr. Yeakey (a totally cool social studies teacher), Jan Whittlesey (my English teacher and National Forensic League coach at Beaverton High School), James Ericson (the gifted acting teacher and director at Beaverton High School for 30 years), my German teacher Mr. Kjelstrom, and Mr. Lacey (my economics teacher, who told us that he refused to pay the portion of his taxes that went to fund defense spending--this made quite an impression on me!).

I feel very lucky that I had such a positive educational foundation...and wherever you are, my dedicated teachers who guided me and so many other children, I THANK YOU!!!


  1. Not sure the years you went to Vose, but I went there fom 74-80. I too remember Mr. McGwire and remember him doing the tai chi. And he smoked a pipe. Of course, most of the teachers probably smoked back then!

  2. Wow--that's a kick! I was there from 1970-76.

  3. I remember poor Miss Thune and Mrs. Smith had to push the piano from classroom to classroom because they didn't have a classroom of their own -- at Vose 1968-1974.

    Remember Miss Knerr who introduced me to Shakespeare and prepared me for AP English with Mrs. Brandon at Beaverton High School.