Lessons Learned

Mrs. Rainwater's 2nd grade class

Mrs. Rainwater’s 2nd grade class

Children are back in school. I have seen the Staples commercials and know that it’s the “hap-happiest time of the year” for many families. In honor of this season I wax nostalgic about lessons I learned through the years. Not all of these lessons are noble, but like too much sun exposure in my youth, their effects linger.

My second grade teacher was a wonderful, kind, loving woman named Mrs. Rainwater. I must have learned some facts and figures in her class since I proceeded the next year into third grade, but one thing I know for sure. She loved me. She loved all of us. We were safe and happy. Is there anything more important a 7-year-old needs to know? I also credit her for introducing me to the power of words. It wasn’t that Dick and Jane were profound literary sources. It was that her friendly face, her loving essence, her gentle presence were all summed up in that magical name: Rainwater. I wonder how many of her other students became poets?

During my junior high years I took piano lessons from an ancient woman, Mrs. Rieke, with upper arms that flapped when she played a speedy set of chords. I didn’t like playing the piano, practicing or going to my lessons where all this dislike was on obvious display as I hobbled through my pieces. My mother demanded I continue. While I didn’t learn much past The Volga Boatmen, I learned lessons in conniving.

You see, my mother was fixated on allergies of all kinds. She was hyper-vigilant (long before it was cool) that we eat organic food, avoid “fumy” things like gas stations and gas stoves, and that we guzzle a homemade concoction she called “salty stuff” whenever we felt queasy. (If we hadn’t felt queasy before we drank that stuff, we did afterwards.)

As my mom drove me home from one piano lesson I mused out loud that I didn’t feel great. I probably did feel bored, restless, frustrated. But it wasn’t that I didn’t feel well. My mom, however, got her worried allergy-alert face on and asked what kind of stove Mrs. Rieke had. I realized that – yes! – she had a gas stove! Well, that was it! That was the last of my piano lessons.

I don’t know in my heart of hearts if I intentionally worked that ploy or if I just took advantage of my mother’s assumptions. Is there a difference? I appreciated that however complicit I was in this, the outcome was satisfying. However, I recognized even then that I had a power I didn’t know I had – to manipulate my mom. It scared me. I never knowingly wielded that might again. I have no regrets about not being able to play the piano now.

In high school, one of my most influential teachers was my German teacher, Fraulein Baer. She came to the States just after WWII but had only the slightest accent. She was firm, stern, funny, occasionally fierce, and utterly devoted to infusing her students with a love and appreciation of All Things German. It was her enthusiasm, her commitment, her creativity that had me memorizing my Eins, Zwei, Dreis, hunting songs, “The Rhine Medley” and Christmas carols I still sing every year. She taught me about the heritage and culture of my forebears (forebaers?) which now enrich my genealogical forays. I eventually wrote my master’s thesis on propaganda in Nazi Germany, glad to be able to read German books for sources, thanks to Fraulein Baer.

Here’s to the teachers and the lesson I learned!

Love and learning flow
From the touch of rainwater
Singing in my soul.

No more piano.
Fine result at quite a cost:
Seismic power shift.

Fraulein taught alles
From Schnitzel through Sauerkraut,
The best and the Wurst.

(By the way, in the photo I’m the one in the middle with the pretty “suspenders”.)

What teachers and lessons made significant impacts on your life?

About Linda

(Prose Board) splits her time between the mountains of Utah and the prairies of Illinois, generally confounding the postal service. She compiles inspiring collections of LDS women talking about topics dear to (or prickly in) LDS women's hearts (visiting teaching, Relief Society, motherhood, etc.) through Cedar Fort Publishing. Her latest is "Muffins & Miracles: Church Service in the Real World." She also writes for children ("Come with Me on Halloween"), illustrates, writes poetry, plays with fabric and can be bribed with dark chocolate.

9 thoughts on “Lessons Learned

  1. The teacher that stands out most in my life is Duane Glanzmann. He was my math teacher in 11th grade. “You KNOW the answer!!” Um, no, I don’t. He was patient and good and dedicated. I may become a high school math teacher because of him.

  2. Miss Andersen, Kindergarten. She was sweet, kind, and everything you dream about a K-teacher being. She had braces and when she gave me a school picture of herself I was so excited. I told her I liked it and she told me she broke the camera. I believed her. My Mom told me that it was just an expression.

    Mr Bill who took a terribly shy and terrified middle schooler and helped her to have confidence and be comfortable in her own skin.

    My 9th grade math teacher who made Algebra make a lot of sense.

    Several college profs who shared their love of their specialized subjects and made me love them too.

    My Grandmas. One made the world magic. The other made magic bread. Both loved me just for me. Both made the world a better place by just being themselves and loving those who came to know them.

  3. Mr Welch- 6th grade. I was the tallest, the most “developed” and I had just moved from the South. My small town Utah class mates asked me to say some words over and over just to hear my accent. Mr. Welch treated me like every other student and didn’t even comment when I wore my first pair of glasses. I needed so badly to just be normal.

  4. Glen Prisk. AP Biology. And well, you see the monniker. It is no secret what I did with my life.

    Nancy Reid. AP Literature. She was also the gosepl doctrine teacher in our ward and her persepective on everything seemed both richer for her testimony and her knowledge.

    And . . .and . . . I could go on ad naseum. I love school and teachers. I became a teacher so that I can still get on the bus every fall.

  5. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Bailey, was mean. She hit me and shook me and once tore some of the buttons off my dress. I skipped school at the age of 6, wandering the neighborhood. I feel sad for that little girl, but I also wonder how she would feel to learn that I was an incredibly smart little girl who could have been an asset to her class. I had an experience using guided imagery where I clearly felt her remorse and have some compassion for her regret, but I still don’t like her.

    Luckily, my second grade teacher rocked. She was an Italian who lived in remote Nevada, teaching us in a little one room school to read and write and do math—-and that we were loved.

    Likewise, my fourth and fifth grade teachers saw my potential and I was on my way academically, which saved my life in all the chaos of alcoholism and abuse. My fourth grade teacher took me to my daddy-daughter date!

    This is a wonderful post; teachers probably have no idea the lives they affect. Forever, as it were.

  6. I went to a one-room school in Wyoming until 6th grade. In 4th grade, the teacher subscribed to an art service that sent her an envelope every couple of weeks about a famous artist. In it were reproductions of a number of paintings, a biography of the artist and other information about each painting. We could go through the envelopes and learn all about great art. I remember loving the Dutch masters’ paintings, especially the ones with the beautiful sky, and a cow or two, or ones that depicted kitchens and women working there. It was a representation of my real life at the time. Now–jump to the future about 35 years–I am living in So. California. We took the family to the Getty Museum in Malibu. About halfway through the museum, I went around a corner into a new section—BEHOLD! The beloved paintings from the wintery afternoons in my little schoolroom, in their gorgeous, enormous glory. They were so fantastic and even more wonderful because, by then, that bucolic childhood of cows and kitchens was just a lovely memory. But standing there, surrounded by all my old friends from the fourth grade, I once again blessed Mrs. Erickson for her determination to enlarge our world and teach us to love and appreciate so many things.

  7. Mrs Sumpton, my grade 3/4 teacher. She had a calf-length fur jacket that she would wear during recess, and let me dig my fingers into the cool silk of it. She also introduced me to American mustard, and onions on hotdogs.

    Mr Crees, year 7 English, for telling me that I had a way of writing he’d not seen in someone my age. Mr Crisp, year 8 English, for letting me know very simply that my assignment was shoddy work (I got a B), and I shouldn’t ever hand in anything that was less than an A.(He also gave me unrestricted access to the locked teacher’s book stash cupboard.)

    My Year 10 teacher whom I intensely disliked (can’t remember why now) so I deliberately didn’t try at an assignment to “get back” at him. Got my first ever D (fail) and I learnt that the only person I’d hurt was myself.

    Thanks for the lessons and teacher hero reminders!

  8. Mrs. Forvilly, high school band director who is still my dear friend. Besides stoking my love of music, she taught me how to work hard and how to live & speak true to my faith (she’s a life-long, active & devoted Methodist). And she showed me how to be a friend for life, regardless of age differences (she wasn’t a young teacher even 25 years ago when I was in HS).

    Mrs. Nemeth, third grade teacher who loved my writing and inspired me to keep at it, and who taught all my siblings but the very youngest (I’m oldest).

    Thanks, Linda, for the fun and insightful vignettes, and for helping us remember our own lessons and teachers.

  9. My AP Literature teacher during Senior year of High School – Mr Jackson. Epic sci-fi/fantasy geek. Amazing self-confidence behind those giant glasses, but also a large amount of pride – ha! While talking to him over a book I was supposed to be reading for a final paper – Nichomachean Ethics, what was I thinking – he could tell my confidence was shaken. He put the book down, looked me in the eye and said, “Tay, I know you can get a 5 on the AP exam.” It was the most confidence anybody had expressed in me up until that point in my life and it has carried me. He was also awesome because we could get him to lecture on things that weren’t part of the syllabus and end up distracting him the whole period. His rants were fascinating and informative and hilarious. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing” he’d say, and then go along with it anyway. So excellent.

    Ron Woods at BYU. Professor Woods? He didn’t like that term. He just retired from editing the humanities department magazine. In his creative writing class I learned not to write fiction because I’m really not talented at it. He didn’t tell me that, he actually really tried to encourage me, but I’m realistic enough to know when something can’t be forced :). But he is so kind and subtly funny, I just loved the 10 person class and went every week just because I liked him. And one class he got Leslie Norris to sub in and HOLY COW. I could have sat under his tutelage for a never ending period of time. And Ron made that happen.

    Professor Gaskill at BYU. Insane. So much information in so little time, I don’t remember him breathing like a normal person, just gasps whenever his body just couldn’t handle him talking/yelling any longer without more air. What I learned from him is that you can learn a lot from crazy people, pay close attention.

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