Do most people remember every teacher they’ve had? I was in a discussion the other day about influential teachers and to enter it, decided to review who all my teachers were. I discovered I could effortlessly name each of my elementary school teachers. Is this normal? In high school and college, with so many specialist teachers, it’s trickier, but for me at least, elementary school— to be exact, Harrison School in Roselle, New Jersey—lives in the forefront of memory. Here’s my quick review:
Kindergarten—Miss Levy: Finger-painting, story-time, nap time, free choice almost all day. A promising transition from the neighborhood to the school.
1st Grade—Mrs. Williams: The shock of work trumping play, but also some pleasure in it. I apparently wrote something impressive one day and Mrs. Williams walked me up to the 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Tomsu to show off my work. But she also made me sit behind the piano (minus the dunce cap) when I misbehaved.
2nd Grade—Mrs. Tomsu: Despite our promising introduction in 1st grade, my biggest memory is her taping my mouth shut one afternoon so I wouldn’t talk out. (People who know me are laughing. I guess it didn’t work.)
3rd Grade—Miss Rice: Not a happy combo—I spent much of my time in the hall and she wrote on my report card—“Douglas is very, very annoying.” I got revenge by watering her plants with soapy water. But I do remember enjoying a writing exercise where we picked photos from a basket and wrote a little story about it.
4th Grade—Mrs. Hendrickson: The sweetest of my teachers. I once flung my arm back and hit someone when they kept tapping on my shoulder while I was working—and it turned out to be her! I remember her being good-humored about it and forgiving me. We made marionettes and put on a little play—my one and only theater experience. Mine was an Eskimo.
5th Grade—Mr. Anderson: A somewhat sadistic man with thick black glasses who made my friends and I duck-walk down the hall and back when we were bad. He had a student teachers named Miss Graziano and with the first stirrings of an emerging libido, my friends and I had our first case of puppy love.
6th Grade—Miss Conover: She was determined to make young ladies and gentlemen of us and the boys had to wear string ties to school. She was strict, but also with high academic standards and expectations. I remember some science fair project about a volcano, making a paper mach mountainy and luring some chemicals into it to make it froth.
7th Grade—Mr. Reuter and Miss Richmond: Elementary school normally ended at 6th, but the year I got there, they decided to extend it. Mr Reuter was nice enough, Miss Richmond reminded me of Miss Rice.
Music—Mrs. Saruya: Yes, we had music twice a week for my whole elementary experience and Mrs. Saruya was sweet, but she could have used some Orff training! We mostly sat at desks and sang forgettable songs badly.
Art—Mr. Friedman? Here’s where I draw a blank. I just remember a man’s face two inches from mine yelling at me. Are you getting a picture about what a good student I was in elementary school?
Gym—Mr. Salcito: Loved gym and loved him. He was the one whose character marked the school.
Principal—Mr. Feinburg: I spent a fair amount of time in his office, but don’t remember much warmth in our relationship—to put it mildly. We used to call him Fuzzy Feinberg because he was bald (Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear, Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair, Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy, was he?)
I had some memorable teachers, mostly English teachers, in high school, but it wasn’t until Antioch College—and beyond— that I met the ones who would change my life.
I suspect that most alums in the school where I teach remember all their teachers. I suppose we’ll find out soon, as we hope for a big party next year celebrating the school’s 50th year.
Teachers, here’s one way to think about our job: Make yourself memorable. For the right reasons.