Some memories just never fade; though, I do wish I still had that picture of my younger self with that little green chalkboard my baby sister and I received for Christmas many years ago. Looking back, I probably should apologize to her for commandeering the treasure that would shape my life and define my career. I’m relatively certain she did not get to play with it nearly as much as she should have, but I’m equally certain she became my student in the use of it more often than she would have liked. She wasn’t alone in this captive audience. Baby dolls, stuffed animals, pets, and anything else I could pretend to teach sat at attention while I waxed eloquent teaching phonics and basic math on that little chalkboard until its surface became so slick the chalk just slid off it.
Years later, I would board a Greyhound bus the last week of May every school year, after my Christian school dismissed for the year. My destination was always the same, my eldest sister’s home in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she taught elementary music at her Christian school. I don’t know why I was the only one who made that annual trek, but I loved every minute of it. My sister could hold a room full of tiny ones in the palm of her hand; every wiggly little body calmed in rapt attention as she clapped out rhythms and demonstrated instruments, teaching them music theory as though Mrs. Vaughan had no doubt every one of them would be the next Johann Sebastian Bach. For that half hour, every child was a musician, and I watched in awe as she shaped their love for music with a calm and quiet voice. I would cut out stencils, inventory books, pack away curriculum for the summer, and whatever else she needed done, and I loved it. She was teaching me how to teach.
Every teacher I ever had was a genius the day I walked through her door. She only had to maintain the image and do nothing to destroy it. Her authority came with her chalkboard, and I loved being taught. I can only remember one teacher who ever fell from grace in my sight. She was a hateful old lady whom I later learned despised my father and took her hatred out on me in her classroom the very year he passed away. The lessons I learned from her, I swore I would never teach any child under my influence. Fortunately, all the other teachers I had actually liked children and intended to teach them more positive lessons.
I so fondly remember my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Knust. What a tiny lady she was! No one could ever tell which one was the teacher when we walked in line that year, and we all loved her. Mrs. Pendleton introduced me to Laura Ingalls Wilder, and every day in sixth grade, we put our heads down with the lights off for twenty minutes or so, as she read to us with delight about life on the prairie and little Half Pint. Later I would learn about grace and mercy when I faked my mom’s signature on some memory work in eighth grade with Mrs. Mavredes, and Mrs. Lavy was a favorite simply because she loved me even though I never understood algebra. Even my principal, Mrs. Pruett, captured my attention as she always insisted when we were rowdy, that we “look right here at the end of my nose.” At first we wondered what in the world was wrong with her nose. It looked perfectly fine to us. They all left a mark in my life and on my heart.
Most people have a hard time deciding on a career path: not me! I knew since… well… I’m not sure I remember a time when I didn’t know I would one day be a teacher. As a matter of fact, I never considered another college besides the one that trained my sister–I never even applied anywhere else. If I could be half the teacher she was, then I would be a resounding success. I wish I could say I started out well, but the fact is, I was a really bad teacher at first. After deciding to teach English, I was faced with the uncomfortable truth that I had to KNOW English in order to teach it. My pride forced more confrontation upon students than I’d like to admit. In the early years, I hoped that my students would forgive my gaffs as willingly as I had forgiven my own teachers. Most did. I had occasion to apologize—thank you Facebook—to Lanard Evans, one particularly precocious young man who fell prey to my pride. I often think of Kezia Williams, who probably would not nominate me for coach of the year from her time under my tutelage in volleyball, yet as I grew, I learned to be more patient with my students, and I learned that they really don’t want their teacher’s opinion on whom they date. I wish I had learned that lesson earlier.
I look back now on those early years when my love of education, borne out of a little green chalkboard, sprouted and flourished. From time to time, I took short sabbaticals from the classroom, but never was I more fulfilled than when I taught. The call to the chalkboard has always compelled my return. Now I’m privileged to teach children from all over the world, and I hope that a few of them may look back on their time in my class and remember a spark, igniting them toward some passion. When I’ve long been laid to rest, I hope God will give me the honor of looking down to Earth and seeing my former students: some authors or classroom teachers who pass on the love of learning with great passion.
True, some memories never fade, and for that, I am thankful.
…and that’s the view from My Front Porch.
This chalkboard is like the one I had minus the frame, but the alphabet and numbers I remember distinctly. I found this one for sale and asked the shop owner’s permission to use the picture with a link. Maybe I’ll break down and buy it before long.