& a back-to-school poem and prompt by Arden Brown
First, my compliments to Arden. Mrs. Hoxie was my second grade teacher at Occoquan Elementary school in Virginia. She was beautiful, with her dark hair, always up in stylish way. She wore mini dresses with flowers, colorful tights and shiny flats. My dad was in Vietnam that year as was another kid's dad. She had, in the right hand corner of her blackboard, Dad's name (LTC McKnight) and the other dad's name with the number of days until they came home. Each day, she would erase the the two numbers, to one less. I adored her. She always smelled like lemons and love. Today, so many years later, I recall the tender hearted woman who made me feel special, and hopeful about my dad returning home. Her stylish dress choices influenced my own style and as a teacher myself, I personalize my interactions with my students so that they know I know how important the people, the loved animals are, their interests and fears are to me. Thank you, Mrs. Hoxie, for loving me as an 8-year-old in second grade. For giving me Valerie Bozman as my buddy to eat lunch with and play with at recess from my first day in your class, to the last. Thank you for playing, "Hey Jude" one day on the record player and telling us about the Beatles. I collected each of their albums and this influenced my obsession with music to this day. You were, and always will be, the angel on Earth for my tender heart.
In 1962 I was an eight-year-old third-grader at St. Anastasia’s Roman Catholic School in Queens, NY. and I loved my teacher, Mrs. Abbadessa. Firstly, I loved her name. It sounded like a magic spell. And secondly, because she wasn’t a nun in a severe black habit and wimple that I found scary. Mrs. Abbadessa wore pretty clothes and spiked high heels and make-up. I loved her bright pink lipstick. Her jet-black hair was usually up in an elaborate French twist or a beehive hairdo. I thought she was beautiful.
One day we were having a test from our “Fun with Phonics” books. Any third grader could tell you phonics was not fun. I liked to read, but not the dictionary. All those little marks breaking up the words were confusing. And who could remember where they were supposed to go on a test?
As I sat glumly staring at those hieroglyphics during one such exam, Jeanie, a classmate two seats in front of me, created a welcome diversion. She raised her hand and said she felt sick – and got excused to go home. Well, that seemed like a good idea to me. I waited what I thought was a decent interval while trying to look studiously engrossed in my test paper. Then I raised my hand, and said I felt sick too.
I can still remember Mrs. Abbadessa’s face as I stood there shamelessly clutching my stomach and telling her I was going to throw up, with some 40 plus pairs of eyes on me wondering if I would get away with it too. (Yes, there were that many of us baby boomers in that one class!). She didn't smile, but I could see it in her eyes. Maybe she was impressed with my blatant lying. Or perhaps she pitied me my stupidity in making the attempt so quickly after Jeanie's successful bid to break out of phonics prison. But she didn’t shame me in front of my classmates and send me to confession for lying. Or rap my knuckles with the dreaded copper ruler I had seen some nuns use for smaller transgressions . Instead, she sent me home! How could I not love her?
Why are some memories so easy to recall? Sixty years later, I can still see her face, made up and beautiful. Her smile. Her hairdo. I think of her patience trying to teach such a crowd of bored, restless children five days a week. I I marvel at her ability to appreciate my childhood silliness and her kindness in just setting me free that day. Of course, I loved her. Mrs. "Abracadabra" Abbadessa.
I will alwlays love Mrs Johnson my second grade teacher. She was kind and acted like a mother. Mrs Johnson told us that we had a memory box next to our heart. Every night as we get ready to sleep think of what happened during the day. When you want you can bring the memories back. That memory box has been with me always.
Mrs Russell was my high school French teacher. I was painfully shy. She would say, Amy, you are going to come back and teach this class, right?
my heart would smile as I was so shy. Language gave me a voice though and her encouragement is in (mon coeur) my heart to this day.
She also collected teddy bears. We went to Paris and London as a class and the magic of that adventure is with me still as well. I bought a Paddington Bear at Harrod’s and years after I graduated I took her a bear for her collection.
Like all wonderful and alchemist’s of the heart, she saw me and made me feel seen. She taught me how to express myself with humor and style.
I haven’t had coffee yet so this May all be a bit foggy.
More to come.
Mrs Rader was one of many fabulous English teachers. She was fierce and loving. She encouraged my writing but Mrs Rader didn’t play! She encouraged learning new words and did not tolerate mediocrity. A misspelled word or improper grammar awarded us with a failing grade. She was tough and yet I could feel that she believed in me as a human and a writer.
I still recall I wrote a paper on the ethics of the first heart transplant recipient and the quiet pride I felt when my paper was awarded recognition as best of the class. I was even offered college course credits if I’d choose to attend the local university.
She also loved horses and actually had her own ranch on the outskirts of town.
Once my bestie and I were being teenagers and ran into her at the local fancy Italian restaurant. She looked at me and said, “what are you doing here at this hour?” Her face was none too amused. I went silent. She told us to go home and we ran for the exit door. I was horrified and yet intrigued which sums up my teenage years.
Decades after high school, she was at a book signing in my hometown. She asked me, Amy, are you still writing? Have you published?
I said, “No.” and my heart smiled. She remembers me and still believes in me.
See, great teachers see your gifts and also encourage autonomy. Thank you for this opportunity to celebrate her memory and honor my love of writing.
PS Mrs Rader, note: should there be grammatical errors here, attribute them to poetic license. 💖
Dearest Suleika, congratulations to you and Jon for American Symphony !!! To learn that this was happening along with everything else you were dealing with is remarkable, but not surprising in the least, because that is how I’ve come to know you.
“reimagining survival as a creative act and transforming life’s interruptions into creative grist.”
You are a force in this world. ♥️
And Arden! She is on to something grand!!
I remember it like it happened yesterday.
I was in the 5th grade and it was December. Every classroom did a door decoration for Christmas, using a large piece of paper from a roll that was used for covering tables for different things. It was cut to wrap over the top edge of the door, covering it completely, and wrapped under the bottom edge, and taped on the back side so it was visible in the hallway when the door was closed.
My teacher, Mr. Berisford was a Jehovah’s Witness and did not celebrate Christmas by embracing Santa or Christmas Trees as a part of the Christmas Season. Why a classroom of 5th graders was even made aware of that escapes me now, but there it is.
I was voted by my class to create our door panel. The paper was laid in the hallway outside the room with art supplies. He came out, towering over me as I sat on the floor, saying, “No Santa Claus, no Christmas Trees.” I refused to say “okay” and said “I heard you.” instead.
He went back in the room and I decided on a winter scene: Pine trees with snow. I spent about an hour drawing and painting with that chalky tempra or poster paint.
Then I began adding birds. Birds of every color in the paints I was given. They were perched in the branches of the pine trees. Birds that had body shapes not unlike Christmas lights, but I made sure they all had beaks and eyes, some having their wings spread out so there was no question that they were birds. If you stood back and squinted your eyes, it was not hard to see Christmas Trees. I had adhered to the letter of the law, but not the spirit of it.
If I could say anything to him today, I’d thank him for challenging me, because that gave me the courage to stand up for myself within the restraints of his authority as my teacher.
I was a Fifth Grade Rebel. 🎄
Good Morning Everyone!
Arden, Mrs R sounds like a wonder teacher, I hope your new teacher will be just as open and caring with you and your classmates.
Your prompt brought me the wonderful memory of Mrs Holbrook, my fourth grade teacher. I broke my arm that year and had to be hospitalized, in traction, for a week or so. I told my mother I couldn’t remember what Mrs Holbrook looked like. Somehow she got word and sent me her school photo. Then she actually came to visit me in the hospital!
Mrs H was young and wore her blonde hair in a poofy updo. I thought she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen.
Mrs H read us The Borrowers and Stuart Little that year. She let me get away with bringing articles cut from my mother’s Cat Fancy magazine for current events.
Thank you so much for stirring these delightful memories!
Arden you are a great storyteller! The teacher I remember is miss Obrien in second grade in Brickett school in Lynn Mass. she was mean, old and rickety. If sheas mad at any one of us kids especially for talking so much she used to take my chin in her hands and squeeze my chin until it hurt, while her face was popping veins filled with rage. Looking back as an adult I realized how frightened I was of her as a child and how much I hated her as a child. Compassion for her now because she was so miserable and unhappy it still go “yuck” when I think of her. And no one saved me from her.
Arden, darling, you are a good listener and retain what you observe. This bodes well for future careers. If you decide on journalism, come and see me.
Yes, Jon, I know how it’s possible to get unnerved, but I cannot wait to see this documentary. You are both so admired and I’ll be first in line at the Michigan Theater when it comes to Ann Arbor.
My favorite teacher, hands down, was Mr. Morrison in sixth grade. He was the sixth grade teacher everyone wanted and I am pretty sure my parents, who ran the PTA, pulled strings to get me in his class. Mr. Morrison had a booming voice that I can still hear. He made subjects come alive, like the International Geophysical Year. Whenever I hear the Donald Fagan song, I.G.Y., I think of Mr. Morrison.
My school was formally integrated in sixth grade and students bussed in from their neighborhood. I was volunteered by my parents to help welcome our new classmates. Some kids, and most likely their parents, were not comfortable with the situation. There was a fight on the playground one sultry spring afternoon. The n-word, which was banned in our house, flew.
Mr. Morrison raced out to break it up. Then, he threw out his after-recess plan and had a conversation with us about beliefs. He said that what we believed in at age 11 would carry with us for the rest of our lives. Then, he asked each of us individually what we believed in. “Peace and God,” I said.
It was literally a teachable moment. He was smart to shut things down and confront the situation. All these years later, I still remember the serious vibe in the room as he went from student to student.
I saw John’s post about this on IG (or maybe he was tagged?) and wondered if I’d missed something here. Sometimes the most beautiful things come from unexpected twists (or in this case, changing the original concept of the film). It takes an extreme amount of courage to be so vulnerable, much less baring it all for the world to see. I hope that by watching you were able to see how much strength you have to have gone through that experience (twice) and continue to fight. Can’t wait to see it. Zoom watch party?
I love your drawing and all your very specific details. And I love how open your teacher was with her students so that you saw her as a real person. What a great example in being human. Our flaws and our strengths--she offered that to her students with such openness and generosity. How fortunate and lovely for you and all students when we have that special person in our lives. As an older person and as a therapist who has talked and listened to people over many years we remember our worst and our best
teachers. Our best teachers invite us to love others and be our best selves while being the imperfect humans we are. To love ourselves. You, Arden, are fabulous!!
My high school humanities teacher was a “cool cat”, mr. kampka...... I was so in love, whatever he taught, I loved it. I was 15 in a Chicago suburb, it’s 1971, changes in curriculum.... open classrooms, smoking on campus grounds, changes in social rules opened up...no more dress codes (except girls couldn’t wear halter tops since it distracted the boys), kind of an everything goes experiment (I didn’t capitalize anymore when writing, if E.E. Cummings could get away with it so could I!) I didn’t properly learn many basic tools of language arts (as you can tell from my run on sentences & flow of consciousness). But, mr. kampka played miles Davis ‘kind of blue’ album which I still absolutely love (record player in the classroom, students bringing in their own to play & discuss...think jethro tull’s Aqualung, moody blues 🎼) and he had been stationed in Iceland during his army days and the way he talked about it has kept it on my bucket list all these years. He was someone we could talk to about anything and he was hip. Every year of high school I had one teacher who was so deeply into their calling as a teacher that I felt heard & seen and my world was illuminated.
I can’t wait to see your documentary Suleika!
Sister Floriana was my 5th grade math teacher. She wore a wig. Most kids did not like her. I did. She saw me, unlike most teachers, . . . . and most kids. Math was not my thing but in her class I found surety & realized math could be my thing. Middle school math was a breeze. That lesson has stayed with me. Believe in me, see & believe in others.
Can’t wait to see American Symphony!
Oh, and Arden, you are a fantastic storyteller! You paint story with your words and you capture the very essence of Ms R. The drawings are full of care and whimsy too. So fun, playful, and full of detail. Keep writing!
Good September morn, still warm from summer yet the light tells all! Hazy, early morning light, whispering darkness and shadows around the corner. I love, love Arden's poem! It reminds me of my 10th grade honors English teacher, Mrs. B. She was both plump and pleasant, with eyes that smiled sweetly behind dark rimmed glasses, and stout and stern when necessary. I was excruciatingly shy and introverted in high school and Mrs. B. would randomly call on us. Once she called on me and I froze, staring into space, unmoving, and unspeaking. Instead of drawing attention to me, she gently placed her hand on my back and called on someone else to answer. I slumped in my chair, utterly relieved. At the end of the year we were required to submit a paper based on all the books we read during the year. On the day that these papers were being returned to us, we all waited with great anticipation to see what our grades were. Mrs. B. began handing papers back to us. At one point she stopped and made an announcement to the class that she was about to return the best paper she had read in years. We all assumed it belonged to one of two or three very bright students in the class. When she called out my name, I nearly fell on the floor. That moment was so pivotal for me, I will never, ever forget it. The paper touched on many religious and spiritual elements, and I always considered myself different and unrelatable (which I was, to most others my age). I later on discovered Mr. and Mrs. B, both English teachers in my high school, were practicing witches in a community that was primarily Catholic and Jewish. They had two daughters and lived on the same suburban Long Island street I did. I was so intrigued because they were adults and took their practice very seriously. It helped me to understand why they encouraged and respected my differences. Thank you to all my teachers who encouraged me to be myself and to feel comfortable expressing who I truly am.
Wonderful! Mrs. Clifford in third grade. She was also one of my clients on my Sunday paper route:) Whenever she made a mistake she would say in this long drawn out way, “Well, t h a t w a s t h e f i r s t m i s t a k e i e e v e r m a d e i n m y w h o l e l i f e.” Although, not an everyday occurrence it was so frequent that it really made me less afraid to learn. Here was this teacher, teaching us all kinds of amazing 3rd grade knowledge. However, what she really taught me was when you make a mistake, acknowledge it, laugh and move on:) Thanks Mrs. Clifford ❤️ Congrats to you, Jon, Matt and Arden. 🙌
Wow Arden ! I love your style and also that Mrs R has shared her style and life with you. It’s so important to know and share life stories. My fifth grade teacher was Mrs Reuven, who came from Holland. She taught us to embroider across the bottom of an apron. Btw I also say VAHses not VAYses because I grew up in another country, but live in Montréal now.
Suleika, I’ll be first in line when your, Jon and Matthew’s movie comes to Montréal.