Going to School with Mrs. Graham


When I started school, it was in a small country school in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma. The school had grades one through eight in four classrooms. Two ages per class. In mine, there were both first and second grade students. Mrs. Graham was our teacher. She also taught many of my cousins, and my sister. She was wonderful and we all adored her.

Mrs. Graham was probably in her early forties when I was in her class. She taught until she was into her seventies. Three generations from the families in that area passed through her capable hands, learning to read, write, do math, science, art, and history. She was firm, fair, and dedicated to teaching all those little mush headed kids the basics of education. After two years in her class, you could do all those important skills, and spell too.

She didn’t have fancy computers, loads of resources, and special papers to hand out for homework, the only homework we ever had was learning the spelling list for the week. She didn’t have pretty cut outs and things to make bulletin boards with reminders, handouts for kids to take home to parents, or expensive products to teach with. She had a chalkboard, Big Chief tablets, pencils, crayons, a few pair of scissors, and an old beat up mimeograph machine that never quite had enough ink. But we all learned anyway.

What she did have, however, were parents that taught us to respect Mrs. Graham, or they would be all over us about it. I never heard one student talk back to her, smart off to her, or disrespect her in any way. None of us would if we didn’t want our parents to know and make sure we never did it again. What she did have was an innate ability to understand how children learned, and how to ignite our imagination through stories, ideas, and a firm belief that each and every one of us was brilliant in one way or another. What she did have, was a vast store of knowledge that she was willing and able to impart to all of us, even the rowdy boys who were more interested in rough housing than learning their spelling words. What she had was the support of the parents, the admiration of the other teachers and the administration, and the love of her students.

She wouldn’t recognize the modern classroom today. She wouldn’t understand how students can get away with literally doing nothing and still move on to the next level. She wouldn’t understand teaching a child to pass an exam instead of teaching children to learn the basics of reading, math, history, and science as a platform for the building of an educated mind. She wouldn’t understand the focus on feelings instead of a focus on encouraging each student through a purpose driven agenda designed to help them learn to help themselves learn. She wouldn’t understand the disrespect students, parents, and the administration have for the teachers who are down in the trenches working with hateful, angry, bored students every day. Teachers like Mrs. Graham are a phenomenon of the past.

Back when education meant that children were truly learning, it wasn’t uncommon for a young man or woman still in their teens to be teaching an entire community of students in a one room school with children from ages six to seventeen. By the time those children were ready to go to High School, they were proficient in all the basics, plus they could speak, read, and write in either Greek or Latin, or both. They were familiar with and could quote great works of literature, they understood complex mathematics and science theories and practices. They knew the history of their town, state, and country along with world history from the ancient ages to the present. Today, most High School students can barely read, write, or have the skills needed to pass the state exam required for graduation. Students are less intelligent, capable, or determined to excel in their studies. It isn’t just an inner city issue, or a poor issue, it is endemic throughout ever socio-economic level within in every type of community. More children are falling to the lowest common denominator of sloth, failure, and self aggrandizing entitlement than ever before. And no one cares enough to stop the fall, because today, we no longer have teachers like Mrs. Graham. We no longer have teachers, parents, and administrators who see teaching as more than a babysitting service provided for their children, because teachers are no longer allowed to teach, they only facilitate the process of regurgitative education. The students pass the state exam and promptly forget what they learned. They don’t build on a solid foundation of the basics, they simply pass through the system and wonder why life is so hard for them when they graduate or quit school as soon as they are old enough.

Teachers go into teaching knowing that it will be a thankless profession with poor pay. Some go in all shiny and new, ready to make a difference in the lives of their students, and run right into that wall of the lowest common denominator. Many, within a year or two, are so beaten down and exhausted they end up walking away from the profession. It is easier to deal with rude people as a waitress than to put their hearts into a profession where they are insulted and belittled by everyone on a daily basis. The only real losers in the modern education models of today are the generations of students who will waste twelve years in a system that will teach them nothing of value.

Mrs. Graham most definitely would not understand that at all.

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