Big Chief wide-lined tablet. Cigar box for pencils, thick pink eraser, crayons. A new dress. A new school, with new teacher, and new classmates. Wide-eyed.

Schools used to start after Labor Day. Now they start mid-August and in some districts, there are year-around schedules. Students spent many hours in school. It’s no wonder teachers have a significant impact on their attitudes and interests. A math teacher may determine the love or hate of math. An English teacher may open unexplored frontiers through a writing assignment. A principal’s rules may keep a young person on track, or stir up rebellion in another. Here were some of my gradeschool experiences:

Miss Bortel: “Let me tell you a story!” “What if we had Pet Day?” Twinkly gray-blue eyes.  Life is an adventure.  I wanted to move into her Quonset hut with my blonde pig-tailed Betty doll. I helped her write her Alaska school teacher stories.

Miss Amundson: “You’ll never learn to tell time.” “You’ll never learn how to count cash.” “Your doll is ugly.” I have a fear of counting out change. I still have my Susie Lou Anna doll.

Miss Regan: Matching olive green sweater and circular skirt. High heels. Red wavy hair. Nice smile. Got me through tough days when I felt so alone, couldn’t see the chalkboard, and cried often in the bathroom stall.

Mr. Knight: Quiet, gentle, smiling. Eased the pain of school trauma the year before. ““Yes you can color when you finish your worksheet.” Linda and I designed and colored many “church pane” pictures.

These teachers left marks on my life. The first two are in ‘A’ is for Alaska: Teacher to the Territory. All four are in From Kansas Wheat Fields to Alaska Tundra: a Mennonite Family Finds Home.  A Reader’s Guide in the back of each book is suitable for a student book report (grades 6-12.) If you’re a teacher, for your own pleasure, read about pioneering teachers in Alaska – no exam when you finish.

~ Who was your favorite teacher? Why? ~

 (First published in the August/September 2012 issue of “The Country Register – Kansas.”)

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