This is my second post concerning teaching this May, which is appropriate since May is Teacher Appreciation Month. The first article had to do with my 22 years at Blossom Hill School––five years teaching second grade and 17 years teaching first grade. This second post covers memorable students during those years that stuck in my memory—some for good reasons and some not-so-good. Most of my teaching career, I was known as Mrs. Clark.
Alan was my student during my second year of teaching when I was teaching second grade. He often brought me flowers, which I finally realized he was picking from other people’s yards. He often took things from the desks of other children in the class, which I didn’t realize until his kindergarten-age sister would return them. At that point, I talked to him about it and to his parents. At Christmas time, he helped me after school, and I mentioned that I was going to get some spray-on snow for the windows. He left, but soon returned with a can of spray-on snow. Later, I realized that he went to Thrifty’s only a couple blocks away and shoplifted what he wanted. He enjoyed helping me decorate the windows. Everything came to a head right after Christmas when he tried to burn down his house. When the fire truck was there putting out the fire, he was caught stealing stuff off of it. The next day, the fire chief and police chief met with me after school and told me I was the only adult he was connecting with and that his mom was mentally disturbed and there would be major changes taking place with this family. The father and children moved away soon after. I’ve often wondered how Alan turned out. I don’t think he was bad, he just needed someone to love him. I think I was the only one who paid any attention to him.
John was a smart, good-looking second grader, who was a natural leader. He did everything not just good or correct but above and beyond. He was simply excellent in everything. I keep waiting to hear his name running for President.
Gino looked like a miniature football player in second grade. But not too miniature; he weighed more than I did. Most second-graders weigh 45 to 50 pounds, Gino weighed about 130 pounds. And he was a bully. One day some of the boys on the playground had him down on the ground behind the backstop and were pounding him, and I was on yard duty. I blew my whistle, but not too loudly. I headed in their direction, but not too fast. This time, justice was walking slowly. Gino was in tears and complained mightily when I got there. I comforted him but also told him that now he knows how the kids he picks on feel. Those kids taught him better than I ever could.
Doug was a fabulous artist at the age of six in first grade. He would draw the most beautiful and bizarre creatures and landscapes. And create unique stories to go with them. He would go into his own little world and slip off his chair and sit on the floor and use his chair as his work space. He simply marched to a different drummer. I did not make him sit on his chair, and I let him use his imagination as much as he wanted as long as he got his required work done. I told his mom that he would never make it in the public schools, that he would need something like Montessori or a place that had individualized teaching programs. She was one of my mother helpers, and she agreed with my assessment.
Tommy was a sociopath at the age of five, and I did not want him in my first-grade class. But at that time, I was the most experienced first-grade teacher and got him. He could mesmerize other students and talk them into doing things that would get them into trouble or hurt them, while he got away. I saw him in action when he was still in Kindergarten. He was riding his bike on the playground after class while I was in my classroom preparing for the next day. I saw him stop and talk to a little kid who had climbed up high on some climbing equipment and Tommy told him he could let go with both hands and be okay. The kid did and he fell and got hurt. Tommy rode off smiling––right out of a Steven King story. I ran out but too late to stop it and helped the little boy. That’s when I realized just what Tommy was capable of. During the year he was in my class, I figured out right away that he was smart and could do his work with minimal help and did not like being called on. So, I stopped calling on him and treated him with kid gloves. If I did anything he didn’t like, he would get even. He was one scary kid. His parents didn’t quite know what to do with him.
Bobby loved attention and he would get it one way or another. I finally figured out how to deal with him. He loved showing off how great he could do the computer voice on Star Trek. And he had it down perfectly. So, every day, I would have him use his computer voice to give clean up directions before lunch, recess, and time to go home. He thrived on the attention, and it kept him out of trouble. He also had a great imagination and was naturally funny. During an art lesson where I asked the children to draw something that happened during the summer, he just sat and drew nothing except his name on the back. But he was first to want to share. Curious, I called on him. He had a great story about how the white paper he was holding up was exactly what he saw when the airplane flew through a cloud and then the adventures they had when they landed and on and on . . .
Gretchen developed a terrible disease when she was about two that left her very skinny and weak. She was bright, but did everything in slow motion when it came to talking, walking, or using her hands. She had an aide that was with her until after lunch recess. I put all the children who needed the most help at Gretchen’s table. Her aide was the only paid aide I ever had. One very helpful little boy became Gretchen’s protector and was always at her side. There was no aide in the afternoons, so his help was very much appreciated. He was a sweetheart! When Gretchen needed to move anywhere, she had a walker, but it was faster for me to just pick her up and move her, like during a fire drill.
Katie was a classic “Valley Girl,” even though she was only six. She had all the mannerisms and expressions. You could tell she had older sisters. One day, I had a new haircut, and from across the playground, she shouted, “What did you do to your hair?” and ran right towards me. Of course, everyone stared in my direction. Every time I had new shoes, dress, earrings, whatever, she would notice and want to know where I got them and everything about them. Every Friday when she left, she would say, “Tata for now!” or “Thank God, it’s Friday!.” And when I led the class in exercises at recess on rainy days, she would come up and whisper in my ear that I jiggled. She really was a hoot!
I loved teaching. It was a very important part of my life. And the children made me laugh every day and cry some days. They were such a big part of my life. At the end of each year, I was never quite ready to give them up. Well, most of them! There were some I was glad to see move on to another teacher and others I wanted to take home. Both were unforgettable.