What are the attributes of an ideal elementary school teacher? I believe I had one who perfectly fit the bill. Of course, being a fifth grader at the time, I didn’t realize that until many years later.
Countrified and old-fashioned, she referred to her farmer husband as “my man.” However, she was dignified, polite and possessed of an easygoing good humor. At the end of that term’s first day of school, my childish self remarked to my parents words along the line of “my new teacher wears an old dress and doesn’t seem very smart.” Whereupon my father quickly set me straight concerning her superior intellect and prodigious memory. I hadn’t known that my parents and grandparents considered her one of their best friends.
I soon found myself yearning to become a superior student. Maybe because she had no children of her own, she let us know she cared deeply for us, while showing neither favoritism nor censure. It was clear to her students and their parents that she loved teaching. For her it was not just a job.
Mrs. Palmer took it upon herself to discuss with families their children’s behavior, whether good or bad, and shared with them her observations of their learning abilities, either strong or weak.
She taught two grades at once in the same classroom – fifth and sixth – half a day each. In our spare time after lessons were done, interested students of both genders were given the opportunity to learn from her such useful skills as how to piece quilts by hand, making tiny stitches in straight lines. Other times she read to us about famous inventors and authors, exciting adventures, and wonders of the world. In her classroom every pupil also had to take a turn reading aloud.
Once she took us to see a Disney movie at the local theater. Though neither young nor small, she wasn’t above jumping rope with us girls during recess.
This woman also encouraged her students to join 4-H Club and take piano lessons. She saw to it that we exercised outdoors during recess when the weather allowed.
Much later, when my own children were teenagers, I went to visit my favorite teacher. She was then a widow in her 80s, living alone in her big antebellum farmhouse a couple of miles from the abandoned building that had been our school. I found her working in her garden.
She was eager to learn what all I’d been doing over the years. We sat sharing happy memories. Also we shared sadness over her former pupils who had died young, and those who had wasted their talents. She lived quite a few years after that visit.
In her unassuming but persistent way, Mrs. Palmer was a treasure. I’m sure she made a distinct difference in the lives of many students during their formative years. I hope she had realized how much she’d been loved and appreciated.