05 March 2010

March Memoir...

When March comes in whether lion or lamb, I remember Mrs. Hewitt, my first & second grade teacher.  Her birthday was March 8th and for decades I never failed to send her a card (at Christmas, too) until her sister wrote me a few years ago that she was no longer able to see the cards or know that she was remembered. 
Here is a photo of the class with Mrs. Hewitt. 
I am the second grader on the top row left wearing the corduroy  dress with white PeterPan collar.
Here is the first grade photo with Mrs. Hewitt absent;
substituting  was Ruby Lee Higginbotham who later worked as the school janitor and our bus driver.  Tommy is the boy with glasses on the top row (he scooched down so he wouldn't be "too tall")
 and I'm standing in front of him.

Some years ago I wrote a memoir about her for a tribute to teachers sponsored by Borders Books. Sibyl Hewitt--I remember her hands at www.gather.com
That memoir dealt with her classroom and a special needs student, Tommy. But there is a sense in which every student has special needs.
I was in all her reading groups and when I read with the top group, "my" group, she never corrected my pronunciation. In the other groups we worked on my speech disorder--both a stutter and the inability to sound "s" when it came before a hard consonant. By the end of first grade, my speech was near normal. When we read aloud, she discouraged "calling words" and taught us "deportment" and "projection" and "inflection."
Teaching two grades at the same time while attending to the needs of gifted and special needs and non-english speaking students required much creativity in creating a willingness in all her students.  She bribed us. While Tommy had his time at the sandbox to keep him happy, other students had special work sheets and opportunities to color and do paper art. I did art only when it was required. My reward was my desk next to a bookshelf filled with books which I could explore when I finished my work.
She often used older or gifted students to help with the younger or those with needs. While a second grader, I sacrificed "my reading time" to sit at a desk with a tiny first grader who spoke no English. I had a bowl of candies (little multi-colored gummy things the size of minature marshmallows) which I dispensed to the little girl as we completed each page in her primer. When she went to her reading group she could read aloud like everyone else. Throughout the day other students engaged her one-on-one with jacks or crayons or girls-only sandbox. By the end of the first six weeks, she had learned a lot of English and made a lot of friends.
Long before there were "educators" and "mandates" and "in-service" ad inf. there were teachers.
Mrs. Hewitt was one of the best and in her class room there was no child left behind.

This Norman Rockwell illustration for the Saturday Evening Post (1946) evokes Mrs. Hewitt's classroom with some differences:  our stove was black and in the corner, our windows looked out onto a playground and the flat Panhandle plains, and we all wore shoes.
This illustration is from one of my favorite books:  The Faith of America illustrated by Norman Rockwell.  Text by Fred Bauer.  New York:  Artabras, 1980.  An excellent way to explore American history is through periodical art.  The following link has this photo in better color:  see more Norman Rockwall illustrations


Chelsie said...

It is amazing the impact teachers have on us- I can still remember my eighth grade English teacher- Mrs. Hooker- because of her I feel in love with reading. Thanks for this post...

BrandyMcD said...

What a fun, fun post to read. There are many amazing teachers out there and I thank God for them (and pray that Ellery will get one or two of them along the way).