Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Teacher's Teachers

I always wanted to be a teacher.

 I loved playing school, even when I was alone. One Christmas, Santa gave me a stand-up chalkboard, with white chalk and colored chalk.  Now I had all the latest technology to be a real teacher!  Teaching my imaginary students, I created fabulous classes.  One bonus, which I didn't realize until much later, was that my imaginary students always eagerly complied with everything I asked them to do!

In junior high school, I joined Future Teachers of America.  I don't recall many specific activities or meetings of the group, but I do remember that we could prepare a lesson and teach a class. I have no idea what I prepared or what class I taught, but I do remember that I had fun---and I was a real teacher. We also tutored students in our former elementary school.  I listened to a little girl read---this tutoring must have been during the spring, because I remember sitting with her on the steps by the playground in the sunshine.

My school memories, of course, include many teachers. Some of these special people stand out for me.  Allow me to introduce them:

  • Miss Sauer, my first grade teacher.   My family moved to a new house about one week before school started, and I didn't know anyone in the neighborhood.  For the first few days of school, I cried when my mom left me in the first grade room.  Miss Sauer was so sweet to me. As far as I knew, I was the only student she had in that class.  She made me feel cared for and special.

  • Mrs. Wingassen, my fifth grade teacher.   I had the measles during fifth grade, so I was out of school for many days.  She asked everyone in the class to make me a  get-well picture, which she put together into a booklet.   When I got these pictures, I was a very happy girl.  During my childhood, everyone got mumps, measles, and chicken pox, which required long absences.   I imagine we often made these  pictures for other students who were out for long periods, but I only remember the one my teacher created just for me.  Academically,  during this year my teacher introduced  the class to content about all 48 states (yes, I said 48!). With the help of Mrs. Wingassen, I became hooked on finding out about many places in the U.S.   Place names like Schenectady, Albuquerque, Phoenix, and Boise sounded puzzling and magical.
  • Miss Seifert, my elementary music teacher.  Music class was always a  mixture of fun and hard work.  In fifth grade, Cincinnati Public Schools created a 5th and 6th grade school choir to sing in Cincinnati's May Festival.  All students auditioned, and surprisingly, I made it as one of the representatives of my elementary school.  (I owe lots to  my mom who taught me the alto part of "Silent Night", just for fun---hooray, that was the audition piece--lucky me!).  Miss Seifert joined us during our rehearsals on several Saturdays at Cincinnati Music Hall.  Because of spending this extra time with her, I interacted with her on a personal level.  For a treat one Saturday afternoon, she took all of us (about 10 students) to see the  movie "Operation Petticoat".  The title is so fresh for me because the experience was so memorable!  How could a girl feel anymore special than to see a movie with her teacher?? 

  • Mr. Stewart, my 9th grade Algebra teacher.  I was no math whiz, to say the least!  Those math concepts always took a bit longer to sink into my brain!  My dad, an accountant, tried to help me, but honestly, his patience had its limits.  How could his daughter not understand something that came to him so easily?  Fortunately, my teacher offered to help me.  I probably went to his room at least two days a week after school to get extra help.  He explained everything again, showing extraordinary patience. He treated me with great respect, and I always looked forward to the times he helped me.
  • Mrs. Vail, my Socio-Economics teacher.  All seniors were required to take this class, which included sociology, economics, and government.  Each day, I loved going to her class.  She had a fabulous grasp about the kinds of information we would need when we entered the adult world.  One activity caught my attention from the moment she gave us the assignment.    We had to visit different grocery stores to  compare prices of a variety of  products.  I know this work doesn't sound very innovative today, but this was 1967. (The most real-world activity I remember until that one was a math problem requiring me to figure when two trains would meet, one going 50 mph and one going 76 mph.  Heck--I had never even ridden on a train!)  I never forgot how engaged I was in the price comparison project. I now realize Mrs. Vail was way ahead of her time---she gave us an authentic, project-based learning experience. 
     As I write about my teachers, I wonder why each one has remained so clear in my memory. Then I realize the answer!   All together, Miss Sauer, Mrs. Wingassen, Miss Seifert,  Mr. Stewart, and Mrs. Vail are a composite of a masterful educator with all the "right stuff" to help me become successful:      caring for me , teaching with  patience,  giving me academic challenges, offering engaging work, and treating me with respect.

     These teachers, and many more, helped me during every stage of my education.  Because of them,  I have been able to " go confidently in the direction of (my) dreams" , as Henry David Thoreau once recommended to all of us.



  1. Great post! Everyone should try to think of a Top 5 teacher list.

  2. I may actually steal this idea for my blog. But let's be honest, elementary music teachers are just naturally awesome :)