Her name was Mrs. Williams. I suppose she had a first name, but I didn’t know it. She was just Mrs. Williams, my fourth grade teacher and one of the most influential people in my life to date.
Looking back and talking with fellow Boomers, almost everyone admits they had one special schoolteacher they remember, and fourth grade was often that important year.
Fourth grade for me was the first year that learning actually became fun. First and second grade were rather boring, and frustrating if you were a boy and couldn’t keep your crayon colors inside the silhouette or cut on the lines with a pair of rounded scissors. Third grade was different. I had a teacher named Mrs. Woods who spent her summers teaching drill sergeants at Camp Lejeune how to be meaner. She was a taskmaster to say the least. She took the dull and boring out of learning and I became a whiz in math, but it wasn’t fun. She was a very good teacher, but awfully strict.
Mrs. Williams was a warm, friendly soul and loved her students. I’m sure I was her pet, no doubt about it. Even though I wasn’t much good at it, she taught me penmanship and its importance. For math drills, it was the boys against the girls. We’d line up at the chalkboard, she’d give us a math problem and whoever finished first stayed at the board while another student took her place. That’s right, her. I mowed the girls down one after the other. She taught us that competition could be fun and it would be necessary in life.
Mrs. Williams excelled in teaching American History and its importance. It made me proud to read and study about the likes of Washington, Franklin and Jackson. We said the Pledge of Allegiance each morning and were required to memorize and recite a bible verse. That was back before the atheists began to attack our culture and values.
She taught us geography. We had to memorize the states and capitals and I did. Today, when I see an out of state license plate, I mentally name the capital of that state. Santé Fe, of course, is the capitol of New Mexico, and Lansing, not Detroit, is the capitol of Michigan. Maine was always a toughie. It’s Augusta, by the way. I remember that from fourth grade.
About once a week, Mrs. Williams let us sing, at least those of us who wanted to and could carry a tune. “Oh My Papa” was one of the songs I sang when called upon. Eddy Fisher, you know.
But overwhelmingly, my favorite time in all of fourth grade was when Mrs. Williams read to the class. If we behaved, she read us passages from the Miss Minerva series of books about a spinster aunt named Minerva, her nephew William Greenhill and his many escapades as a boy growing up in Old South Tennessee. When she finished a chapter, we begged and begged for another, and often, she’d read two chapters.
The Miss Minerva books not only entertained and amused, they presented a remarkable look back into our history. Mrs. Williams read each line with remarkable expression. She made us laugh. She made us cry.
Teachers, when they are allowed to teach and not simply be social engineers, can be a tremendous influence in the lives of their students. I wonder in 60 years or so, if our grandkids will recall the name of their fourth grade teacher?