Saturday, August 09, 2008

Of Pups and Presidents: Memories of Good Teachers

Part 2 of a two-part series.

Good Teachers:

My third grade teacher was Mrs. Grose. Another misnomer. She was anything but gross. She was warm and kind and gentle and beautiful and funny and understanding. She taught us how to tell time (back before I'd ever seen or heard of digital clocks). She read a chapter a day to us after recess, to help settle us down and let us hear good literature. Her reading was full of emotion. I remember hearing a scary scene from The Boxcar Children: who or what was that in the woods coming closer and closer to the boxcar, snapping twigs beneath their heavy footsteps? I remember the way Mrs. Grose read Old Yeller. When she got to the part where Travis has to shoot his beloved hunting dog because it had hydrophobia, Mrs. Grose turned around on her hard wooden chair, put her head down, and cried.

We heard all about the school antics of Mrs. Grose's identical twin daughters, Nellene and Marlene. The hilarious things those girls could get away with because teachers couldn't tell them apart!

Mrs. Grose and I have stayed in touch ever since I was in her third grade class. One of her twins grew up and married a very abusive man. The trauma he inflicted caused a long, slow, painful death from renal failure when Marlene was 39. Mrs. Grose (who insists I call her Vi, but I can't) has written me letters about her struggles to forgive her ex-son-in-law and to believe that God was good in the midst of the abuse. I have always kept her letters in a box of keepsakes and I love to visit her whenever I get to go back to Kansas.

My favorite teacher in junior high was Mr. Tom McKnight. He was just about the only cool teacher I had in Christian school. The rest were legalistic, narrow-minded, and humorless. I think he secretly liked our shinanigans. The class clown, Ben Jones, would use the word "sleazy," knowing it cracked up Mr. McKnight, who knew he probably shouldn't laugh at that. For example, "That Warren G Harding was such a sleazy little man," Ben Jones would say with an Elvis lip. We'd all laugh, including Mr. McKnight; he would turn to the chalkboard and pretend to be going on with business as usual, but you could see his shoulders shaking.

His fiancee was my cheerleading coach and I am almost positive she and he used to kiss in his room when no one was around. (Kissing was something that would get students suspended.) But Miss Gatto was in love with him and not above clandestine rendezvous with tall, blonde history teacher. I'd bet money on that. She was sweet, though, and let each of us cheerleaders take part in her wedding reception. They got married December 30th and I loved the bridesmaids' pretty white muffs they carried so much that I had my bridesmaids carry them on my December 28th wedding nine years later.

Mr. McKnight taught US History with such passion; so enamored of President Lincoln was he that he named his own son Abraham. He didn't apologize when people would ask, "Oh, after the Abraham in the Bible?" His son and my baby sister, Jill, were born just one day apart. His wife (my cheerleading coach) and my mom saw each other in the maternity ward. How cool (except for knowing the gross fact that my parents obviously still "did it").

In high school at C. Milton Wright, I had two great teachers, Mr. Smith and Mrs. Snyder. The former was my 11th grade journalism teacher and yearbook advisor. (Fun bit o' trivia: we now attend the same church, and his daughter, Sana, and my son, Stephen, just got their driver's licenses the same day a couple weeks ago!) Mr. Smith had such creative projects. I liked almost everything about the class except the assignment to be TV anchors. I remember hating to look into a lifeless camera, and read TV script as if to "viewers out there" without using fillers ("um," "uh, " or "and" to connect one thought after another after another). I declared on the spot that print journalism was the only medium for me. Mr. Smith also taught us how to interview people. Use open-ended questions. That lesson has stuck with me ever since. If you hold a conversation with Robert (whom I eventually learned to call by first name), you'll know that he is a master at drawing people out through the power of open-ended questions.

Mrs. Snyder was my 12th grade AP English teacher. Wisely she introduced Shakespeare to us through one of his comedies (Taming of the Shrew). She was such a good writing teacher that her class helped me test out of English 101 in college and go straight into a 200 level course. She also taught us literay analysis which I had to use ad nauseum for the next four years. Thankfully she made it relatively easy.


Anonymous said...

My favorite profs were Dr. Puccio and Dr. DelliCarpini. Dr. Puccio was such a proper little man, not very old actually, who wore tweed jackets, had salt & pepper hair, and wore wire rimmed glasses. He appropriately taught British Lit. Dr. DelliCarpini was a more robust Italian guy who taught a non-fiction and Shakespeare class I took. LOVED him! He was so down to earth and encouraging. His Shakespeare class rocked! I couldn't wait for it, everyone was excited to be there and to get a word in discussion you had to fight for it, because everyone had something to say! There were many more, I have such a soft spot for my Eng./Graphic Design profs especially.

Anonymous said...

WHOA! One of MY favorite high school teachers was Mrs. Snyder. I was a CMW alumni as well - I had no idea you were too! I remember one of our assignments in Mrs. Snyder's class was to analyze Genesis 3 from a literary standpoint. We also analyzed Hitchcok's works by watching "Psycho." I learned so much from that! And I found my love for writing satire in that class. I think she retired and moved down to NC after I graduated. I don't know Mr. Smith.

Anonymous said...

Kristin, you DO know Mr. Smith. Robert Smith ring a bell?

Anonymous said...

Twas I.