My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Handley, read “Laura and Mary” stories to our class every day. The simple stories read after recess were rewards for good behavior in the classroom, and on rainy days, were our recess of choice. I wonder how much Laura Ingles Wilder and the Little House books inspired my love of historical fiction, and influence my writing style? I always believed “when I’m a teacher” I’d be like Mrs. Handley who smiled every day and loved us all. We never had a discipline issue in her classroom. We started every morning with the Pledge of Allegiance, and a morning prayer.
My fifth grade teacher, Miss Clark, was also the principal of our school. To Miss Clark was where one was sent for “a talk” when discipline was needed. I remember her as a tall lady. Her hair was always “done.” She wore face powder, and lipstick, jewelry, and red nail polish. She wore a suit every day, and heels. She had also been my dad’s teacher! He didn’t do well in school, didn’t like it, and dropped out in tenth grade. I suspect he had a specific learning disability that meant he “just couldn’t get it” when it came to reading. But, he always had great regard for Miss Clark. I learned as an adult that when I was born, Dad was 20 and in the Army, wearing his uniform, he took me to show me off to Miss Clark. I imagine she must have been kind to him when he struggled, and he never forgot that. Miss Clark was all about respect, for self and others. I remember when she hauled in two trouble-makers who’d had been shouting “it’s a free country!” She gave them each a stick of chalk and told them to draw a square around themselves. One side of the square would be shared. She explained the square was the space in which one lives. Our little piece of the planet. She told them to move around in their square, jump, twist, hop, sit, kick, anything they liked. They were in their “free” country. However, when they moved around too much, they came down on someone else’s foot, or swung their arm into another’s face. Now they were in another’s “free country.” Did they like it when the other guy’s arm or foot kept them from moving freely? Then they had to write an essay on “My Free Country.” In their essay they had to conclude that their freedom ended when it impinged on another’s. Miss Clark’s classroom was like that. It was all about respect. We wanted to look nice in her classroom, because she did. We treated others with respect, because she expected it. And we wouldn’t have dreamed of calling her by her first name! So I thought, “when I’m a teacher,” I would look and be as professional as Miss Clark.
It’s hard for teachers to be professional these days, because it seems society doesn’t deem them to be professionals. They have a college degree and continue to accrue credits throughout their career, many have advanced degrees, and yet we pay them as if they were household maintenance. We allow our kids to call them by their first names. When students are abusive to the teachers, parents blame the teachers. (Kids learn to be disrespectful at home!) Even though they are the professionals, others set the parameters for them. It’s the only profession I can think of that doesn’t reward performance, and protects the non-performers with tenure. Good teachers don’t need tenure. Good teachers need to be rewarded and all teachers need incentive to be better. They need to be paid commensurate with the work load, responsibility, education level and respect that is due to professionals who inspire, educate and prepare our youth for employment and service as adults. Teachers make a lasting impression. It’s a pity that a number of those trained professionals are waiting tables or giving manicures to make a decent wage.