Sitting in the yellow molded-plastic chair in the new classroom at the start of a new school year in a new school, the skinny girl with a pale complexion leaned forward in expectation and apprehension. Delicate shoulders squared, hands clasped together on top of the desk, her serious brown eyes surveyed the room. None of the other kids had talked to her yet.
The bell announcing the start of Frankie’s third grade year pealed through the school.
There were about twenty children in the class and some were obviously well-acquainted with each other. Frankie heard some of the girls giggling and sharing stories about summer camps and family vacations. Some of the boys were goofing off and doing gross things that boys do – belching, picking at body parts (their own) and saying words they thought were “dirty” but which really weren’t. The big round clock on the wall with the audibly moving hands clicked to 8:04 a.m. The kids all started looking around the room, craning their necks to see the door. Where was the teacher? The room became unnaturally quiet for a space full of 8- and 9-year-olds.
Then, with a whoosh and a squeaking of rubber-soled shoes on the floor, in walked a lovely young woman with long hair the color of straw, a light blue skirt and a blouse with so many flowers in the design Frankie looked at the floor expecting to see petals scattered there. The woman’s arms were full of boxes; her slender frame in danger of breaking under the load. She made her way carefully down a row of seats and set her burden heavily on the floor next to the teacher’s desk. “Good morning! I’m Mrs. Green and I’m the new third grade teacher.” she said with a smile that would have lit up the entire room were a sudden and total solar eclipse to have occurred.
The students stared at her with a mix of enchantment, skepticism and… hope! The previous third grade teacher, by all accounts, had been a real sourpuss and all the kids, when they managed to think about school at all over the summer, had had varying degrees of anxiety about what third grade was going to be like. This smiling, pretty woman in front of the class left Frankie with the feeling you get when you think the M&M bag is empty and then realize there is still candy left inside.
Third grade was a swirl of joy, anxiety and revelation for Frankie. Mrs. Green was a voracious reader and introduced the class to new worlds compliments of E.B. White, Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, Madeline L’Engle, etc… When she wasn’t reading to them, she was encouraging her students to explore the characters brought to life by these ingenious creators or, better yet, to generate their own. Mrs. Green acted as though each child in her class was someone special and capable, and the whole class seemed to meet her expectation – with a couple of notable exceptions. She was funny, sweet, challenging, thoughtful and a fierce proponent of her kids avoiding dullard status.
Frankie would sit in class and marvel at the energy and enthusiasm her teacher exhibited. Even in the midst of flurries of silliness sprinkled with idiocy among her charges, she would forge ahead with her lesson plan, a disarming grin on her face, and get the class moving in the right direction. Field trips, library visits, spelling bees and reading competitions punctuated third grade and inspired the class to strive for and accomplish more than was expected.
At the end of the school year, Frankie’s head was overfull of imaginings and possibilities. She woke up one summer morning before her fourth-grade year started and looked out at the lemony yellow sun beginning it’s daily climb. She made her way silently down the stairs and out the back door, hopped on her bike and rode through the cool, quiet neighborhood before most of the neighbors or even her family were awake. There was a glorious sense of anticipation in her chest – why, anything could happen! She felt, for all the world, like Douglas Spaulding, in the opening chapter of “Dandelion Wine”, commanding the world to wake up and come alive.
(For many years I’ve wanted to express my gratitude to Mrs. Green for making such a positive difference in my life. This post is hardly adequate, but it’s a start. I love you, Mrs. Green! Wherever you are, thank you!)
~ This post was originally published on 1/15/2011 on Blipfillypicklepoo.blogspot.com and was edited for this publication.