There is no other relationship quite like those of teacher-student, and the shadow of some of those connections follow the student for a very long walk in to adulthood.
One thing that didn’t occur to me while I was a very young student is that teachers carried a sort of small-town celebrity status, like it or not. We held them to a higher regard, and didn’t believe that they were quite mortal beings with real lives outside of their time with us.
Our women teachers all wore dresses, with nylons and nice shoes. They seemed born to teach us, and we couldn’t picture them doing anything else.
I was stunned beyond words in first grade when a mouse ran from the cloak room, startling the unflappable Mrs. Kittle, sending her to seek safety atop her desk, screaming like a girl. Some cavalier little boy took care of the matter and in no time we had returned to a normal day, studying the alphabet and adding numbers. My head wouldn’t stop returning to that event, though. She was supposed to be above all that. She was supposed to protect us! And she was old, too old to be scared of a little mouse.
What I realize in retrospect is that she was likely younger than I am now, and I still scream and flail for cover if someone even suggests there might be a mouse among us.
One teacher I loved and studied from afar was our beautiful, young music teacher, Mrs. Sherburne. She had golden hair and a golden voice, and she could play the piano like an angel sent from heaven. She wore beautiful dresses and walked with grace in high heels that made a beautiful click-clacking sound in the old cavernous school hallways. Someone told me she had a first name and it was Dana.
I had never thought about a teacher having a first name, and it made my head spin. Did she have a regular house that she went to after school, then? Did she peel potatoes and cook supper and have to wash dishes? No, if she ever actually left the school, certainly she had a butler and a chef, because she was too amazingly perfect for such mundane things.
Mr. Zimmerman, my fourth grade teacher whom I adored, might have had a wife and daughters, but he certainly lived in a skyscraper apartment in the city. I couldn’t picture any of my teachers having to do chores, climb a hay mow ladder, milk cows or feed pigs or ride horses for fun.
One day, as the first student to file in to the music room, I looked adoringly at the perfectly petite and poised Mrs. Sherburne and saw her wiping tears. My heart was suddenly heavy, trying to grasp what could possibly cause tears to fall from this pristine person. We took our places in the music room risers, and she quickly composed herself and taught us a lively little song. Those tears must have been my imagination.
Many years later, when we decided to buy this farm, I was surprised to learn that this is where Mrs. Sherburne had grown up. The door leading to the basement has a line with “Dana, 1955″ written beside it, along with measurement marks for her brothers and later her little son, Ben, from age 1 and in the years to follow.
Her father farmed here, so maybe she did scurry in to the hay mow and help with chores. Perhaps she climbed trees, rode horseback and swam in the pond. It is still hard to grasp.
I realize now that the adoration we had for our teachers was a wonderful thing. We regarded them with a little bit of fear and a healthy respect. If an ornery kid stepped out of line, after a bit of giggling, his peers helped keep him in check. It was rare for a student to be sent to the principal’s office for misbehaving, and it would be whispered about for days on end.
One thing we all knew for certain: the principal had a paddle and knew how to use it. It was best to stay far, far away from that walk of shame.