I am sure we all had a favorite teacher. One of whom we think fondly even now. Mine was my tenth grade English teacher, Miss Clark. Miss Clark was near retirement age, a small woman who always wore black and wore sensible shoes. She had that square look that comes from being tightly corseted. Her gray hair was pulled back in a tight bun. Everything about her said, NO NONSENSE!
The first day of school was orientation. We went to each of our classes where the teachers introduced themselves , and gave us a run through of what we would be studying that year. The teacher might ask a question or two about our previous school, that kind of thing and we were out the door on our way to the next class while at the same time trying to find the bathrooms, our locker and catch up with friends and compare notes. The day ended with an assembly at which we were told the rules, attendance was emphasized, well you know. You have all attended one of those assemblies.
So knowing the drill, we filed into Miss Clark's class. Four boys, obviously friends, headed directly for the back of the room but before they could sit in the last row Miss Clark motioned to them. "Come up and sit here where I can keep an eye on you" Four chastened youths guietly walked to the front of the room and sat in the designated desks. "My name is A Bess Clark, but you may call me Miss Clark." Your first assignment (Wait a minute. Assignment, what assignment? Isn't this just orientation?) is this. Each of you will choose a foreign country. You will read three books on that country. One will be fiction, one factual and one a biography of a well known person from that country. You will write a five hundred word report on each book. (Muffled groans) As your semester final you will write a fifteen hundred word essay on the country of your choice. The first book report is due in three weeks. If you do not have a book on the country of your choice in your hand by start of class tomorrow you are all ready one day behind in this class." Needless to say, while at the library that night I ran into a number of classmates.
Miss Clark believed there were some things so important we should learn them by heart. The rules of punctuation were among these. Each Monday we were given a sheet with the rules for some form of punctuation on it. We were to memorize them, and every Friday we had a test on the rules for that week. The catch was, if you did not pass the test you kept taking it until you did, along with each new test, of course.
Despite the fact she was a hard taskmaster we all liked Miss Clark. Looking back I think it was because we all knew she liked us. She expected great things from each of us and wanted us to succeed.
It is easy to compare our teachers to the teachers of today and feel, perhaps, that somehow the teachers of the past were better, but remember Miss Clark did not have to contend with unruly teenagers, with government mandates, with social issues. She would have been horrified had she been able to see a time when some schools had so few resources there were not enough text books to go around. or that some children came to school every day hungry. Miss Clark just had to teach, and boy, did she.