Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mrs. Jeppson, I Really Did Learn Something in Fourth Grade

I took my turn at my daughters' school when they were younger. I had lunch (another story to be told) with my second grader and taught a couple of class periods on the direct writing assessment to my fourth grader's class. Being in her class and watching the wiggles, the sighs, the teasing, the winking at each other, and listening to their writings about being nine years old conjured up my own fourth grade experience and transported me back.

Fourth grade year was perhaps my most favorite grade. I attended Menan Elementary, an ancient, black rock building, built around the turn of the century and surrounded by giant cottonwood trees. Downstairs was a cafeteria where we prayed (yes, we actually prayed) before we ate lunch and ran black erasers chuck full of chalk through a cleaning machine. Our room on the first floor had monstrous windows facing north and east. Behind the front wall was a small cloak room where we hung our coats on our own hooks. We sat on the narrow benches to take off our snow boots, snow still attached.

In the winter, we watched snow flakes quietly pile up on the ground outside. Springtime brought different kinds of birds to the cottonwoods until the recess bell rang. Then we leaped from our desks and rushed out to the huge playing area.

Mrs. Jeppson, my fourth grade teacher, was my most favorite teacher. I can remember where almost everybody sat, what books our teacher read to us, what kids were sick that year, and the crazy things some classmates did. One young man actually chased our teacher around the room with an eraser.

It seemed like we majored in multiplication drills that year. While other fourth grade classes were "drilling," we were playing games with multiplication tables. We sat as teams in rows and flipped up our thumbs if we knew the answer. Denece M. and I were best in our class. We memorized poems and recited them before the class. Mine was "Somebody's Mother." Others memorized Longfellow's "The Village Blacksmith."

Mrs. Jeppson read us Where the Red Fern Grows. The last couple of chapters were pretty tough on little boys trying to become men. The only way I could keep from crying was to let out a "meow" at the end of the book. When I did, the biggest kid in class burst out crying. Fortunately, we then could focus our attention on him and forget about our own tears, welling up inside our eyes and the knot stuck in our throats. Thank goodness for comic relief.

But I wanted to feel that emotion so I checked out the book later. After concealing it, I sneaked out to the haystack, sat on a bale of hale, and imagined myself wandering the woods with Old Dan and Little Ann. I didn't want anyone to know that I was going to shed a ton of tears. Only now can I shyly admit that I cried when Old Dan and Little Ann died.

Probably one of the highlights of my fourth grade was studying other countries. My teacher invited my father who had spent time in Japan after the war to come and talk to us about his experiences. He came and visited with us about Japan, its customs, and the Japanese's feelings towards Americans. He even brought along his "geisha girl." She was absolutely stunning all dolled up in her brightly colored kimono and Japanese make-up. Not until I looked closely did I discovered she was my mother. I felt quite proud my parents would take the time and come to the class.

We learned about other things, mostly from other students in class. Denece taught us the proper way to eat soup, spooning it away from us. A Hispanic girl taught us about Spanish customs. After she left during the school year, she still sent letters to us, describing her new surroundings and school, and Mrs. Jeppson would read them to the class. I even had a crush on Susan, the most beautiful girl in class--or so I thought from 4th grader's perspective. We learned about life that year and how it connected to the real world.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Jeppson has long since passed. But when I contemplate her influence on us and how she propelled us to think beyond the bounds of the classroom, it becomes intoxicating to step inside another classroom and drink of the students' enthusiasm.

Thank you, Mrs. Jeppson, Mrs. Williams, Mrs. Poole, Mrs. Parks, Mrs. Eames, Mr. Baldwin, Mrs. Frew, and all the rest of teachers. I really did learn something from being in your classrooms.

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