WARNING: This is an article on schools, teachers, and instruction written by a finance major.
While this is not an article about alumni, I often tell our schools when considering an alumni program, that “most people have a warm-fuzzy for a K-8 teacher. Mine was Mrs. Schwartz, 3rd grade. If she called me up today for help with her class, I would ask how soon should I get there?”
In fact, I often quote this about Mrs. Schwartz and 3rd Grade when talking about anything good about elementary education in the late 1970s and early 1980s. 3rd grade is when kids start to see the world in a bit more realistic terms. You start to question things. You start to decide what your role will be in the world.
I was recently reminded about the importance of 3rd grade when Mark Muehl and I visited a foundation in Indianapolis that focuses on improving reading in K-3 grades. As they explained, “If a child is not reading at grade level by third grade, they will never catch up.”
This statement, of course, reminded me of Mrs. Schwartz.
Next came memories of the “Gorillas”, the “Apes”, and the “Orangutans”. Mrs. Schwartz was customizing teaching skills to individual students needs back then: Gorillas were those more advanced in a particular subject matter and could move ahead, beyond what the rest of the class was doing. It may come as no surprise that I greatly enjoyed independent learning and was a Math, Reading, and Creative Writing “Gorilla.” I still love those subjects, so I guess Mrs. Schwartz was right.
Orangutans were those that needed more work than others. I hated spelling and was horrible at it. English was not logical! (Who puts a “c” in “disciple”?!) In fact, I think Spell Check was invented by a fellow Spelling Orangutan. Apes were those right on track. I guess there is nothing new under the sun, even with teaching methods, just maybe new names (I will venture that the use of primates to separate learning circles would not be in favor in today’s classrooms. But it worked back then.
During that same day in Indianapolis, I remembered how Mrs. Schwartz cast me as Linus in our 3rd Grade production of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I can still quote the ending monologue that includes Luke 2: 8-14; for a kid in public school that wasn’t used to memorizing Bible verses, and with a slight stuttering problem, this was a leap for Mrs. Schwartz as casting director and a huge boost for this fledgling introvert’s little ego.
As I sit around the table in the ACE room and hear principals lament the lack of teachers coming out of our Concordia University system and the lack of people entering the teaching field in general, I worry that there will not be future Mrs. Schwartz’s to mold and shape future Jonny Dize’s.
Anyway, if the saying is true, that Nostalgia is a liar, so be it. I will keep to my memories, thank you very much. And I will continue to work to spread the Lutheran Spirit and encourage kids to be teachers, kids to be good citizens of the world, kids to be lifelong learners.
P.S. as I write this article, I remember our long-term custodian at Sunnymede Elementary School, Bob. He and I would eventually share a love of apples and of a new-fangled contraption, the Apple-Cutter. It sliced apples and left the core; how wonderful for a finicky kid who brought his Star Wars lunchbox to school every day (except for pizza Fridays.)