Awesome Mrs. Ostrich…

I believe that all elementary school teachers go to Heaven, and that there is a celestial expressway reserved especially for the ones who teach kindergarten.  They are the true warriors of the profession, as far as I’m concerned.  I teach college freshmen, which is a breeze compared to the sticky, germy job of teaching kindergarten during cold and flu season. I wouldn’t be able to stand the suspense of knowing that at some point I was going to get barfed on by someone I wasn’t related to. And then, there’s all that sneezing. Can I just say that teaching an entire generation of kindergarteners to sneeze into the crooks of their own arms was pure genius?  The college instructors of the world have kindergarten teachers to thank for that.  We owe you. Big time.

Do you remember your own kindergarten teacher?  I still remember mine.  Her name was Mrs. Breault.  She had a perm and black cat eye glasses and wore pastel polyester pantsuits and sensible shoes.   She read us Dr. Seuss books and let us color with her good smelling pointy crayons everyday.  I don’t remember much more about her except that I’m sure that she made kindergarten a fun, safe, place for a round-faced little girl with straight bangs and serious blue eyes who was prone to worrying about such things at the age of six.

When my son began kindergarten,  he went full days instead of  half days, as I had.  We lived in the country so he rode a school bus every day for nearly an hour each way.  Some days, he fell asleep on the bus coming home and the older kids would have to wake him up when the bus got to our driveway.  He was five. A young five, at that.  A lasting memory of mine is standing at our dining room window watching him trudge up the driveway one February afternoon looking as weary as a coal miner and thinking, “I made a mistake. You look exhausted, small boy. You are not ready to ride that big yellow bus to a place full of strangers with so many expectations.”

But luckily, he had Mrs. Austrum, a trim, petite dynamo of a woman with cropped salt and pepper hair and running shoes who “got” little boys and kept it real as far as any expectations were concerned.  She read Dr. Seuss books and let him color with good smelling, pointy crayons.  Her classroom was the place where he learned what I’d learned years so many before – that school was a fun, safe place to be even for just barely five-year old coal miners who think their teacher’s name is Mrs. Ostrich.

Mrs.Ostrich is retired now. When I ran into her during a brief visit to Wisconsin a couple of years ago,  she wanted to know all about the handsome, brown-eyed young man I raised who’ll graduate from college this spring.  The one who called her Mrs. Ostrich.  I pulled out my cell phone and as she scrolled through recent photos of him, she said, “ya know…they get bigger, but their faces never really change.  I would have known him immediately.”

Now, I’ve been a teacher long enough to know that you remember some students better than others, so maybe she says that to all the moms. Or maybe, just maybe,  in addition to everything else, maybe remembering every little coal miner’s face they’ve touched is really just another  kindergarten teacher Super Power.

Yep. Pretty sure it’s that second thing.

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