Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Legend

Picture this: You're 8 years old. You walk into your third grade classroom for the first day of school. There sits your new teacher. You skirt a wide path around her, smile nervously on your way by, and hurriedly find your seat. Once there, you sit perfectly still, and wait. And try not to stare. And wonder. Is it true? Is she really?

I don't have to picture it.  I lived it.
My third grade teacher had a reputation that was passed on from the outgoing class to the incoming one each year. The old class delighted in the mild panic that rose to the face of each new third grader as he or she was told the whispered details about this teacher. And so, we new third graders came into our classroom on the first day of school with a healthy dose of trepidation, and an irresistible sense of curiosity.
Once we were all seated that morning, our teacher smiled and told us that her name was Mrs. M–. She had a lovely, genuine, but also mischievous smile. She was a petite, well-dressed woman with coal black hair and large-framed glasses. She sat perfectly straight in her chair, and when standing or walking, her shoulders were always back. This was not someone to be trifled with, especially knowing what we had been told.
She went on with the usual first day stuff - class rules, where the bathrooms were, keep your eyes in your own class. (Remember now, from yesterday's post, this was an open space school. There were no walls, or doors. The classroom spaces were delineated by strategically placed low bookshelves, carts, tables and chart holders. So that last one, keeping your attention with your own class, had high importance.)
We all listened dutifully.
Finally, she came to the crucial part of the morning. The part we had all been waiting for, and at the same time, the part we had all been dreading. Was it true? Was she really? And even more important: who was going to be the one to ask?
"So," she said, smiling, "what questions do you have for me?"
Silence. Our eyes swiveled in our sockets as we scanned the room for that one brave soul. Finally, someone (I don't remember who, but it wasn't me) was brave enough to raise their hand.
"Yes?" She was still smiling.
"Umm... well... I... I mean we... well, how old are you?"
You could have heard a pin drop. Not an easy feat in an open space school.
With a twinkle in her eye, Mrs. M– raised herself up to her full height and said, "I am one hundred and two years old."
Whispers and giggles broke out all over the room. It was true!
Then, she called out over the commotion, "And, I am a witch!"
There was a collective gasp.
"But, if you're a good kid, you don't have anything to worry about, do you?"  Then she laughed.
A few giggles broke out, then a few more, until finally the whole room rippled with laughter. All the tension flew out of us with each new cackle (no pun intended), and the rest of the day was just like any other first day of school.
I had the good fortune to have Mrs. M– twice. By the time I got to sixth grade, so had she! She was still "one hundred and two years old" and she was still a self-proclaimed witch. But, even though I'd had her before, and thought I'd seen it all from her, she was still throwing things at us that we didn't see coming. (Literally - if you were misbehaving, you could expect any number of missiles to fly from her hand and land with a crack on your table - chalk, erasers, pencils, whatever was handy. I should know - I was a talker, and a giggler, and was on the receiving end of those projectiles a number of times!)
And yet, Mrs. M– is on my shortlist of favorite teachers. She was fun, and she laughed like she meant it, and she kept us all in line, and we learned so much.
I'll never forget her.

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