On my first day of Kindergarten I turned around and walked back home.
Maybe if I’d have gotten that first hug from her like all the other five-year-olds entering those scary halls of learning at Tillicum Elementary School I’d have stayed but she never got the opportunity.
She’d get her chance though.
When I fell off the slide during Kindergarten recess and broke my collarbone she was there and I got that squeeze. Gently. And she dried my tears.
Chocolate milk, reading us stories till we went to sleep at nap time, of course the slide, the ever-present smile – truly everything I needed to know I learned in her Kindergarten.
When I graduated from high school she had me and all my classmates of her Kindergarteners-turned-young-
For every new Kindergarten class in the fall and every graduation class in the spring it was the same.
Whether you were with trepidation being released from your mother’s embrace to encounter hers down at the very end of the hall – ‘it’s the last room on the right’ – to which you slowly, fearfully shuffled that very first time over those polished red-tile floors, to the last time – the time when she threw a party just for you and those graduating with you, some to go off to college, some to the Vietnam War, everyone to somewhere in this big, big world – she never forgot you.
It helped having the same birthday.
She and I were both born on the same day in May. Though of course separated by many years of life’s experiences, in fact we were distanced geographically by only a couple of blocks. She lived just down the street and so at least once a year over many, many years, we’d have opportunity to exchange birthday greetings as our annual reminder crept up on the calendar.
Not only did we share the same birthday but we shared a final memory – in the same Tillicum Elementary, on the same polished red-tile floors of the same hallway that leads to the same Kindergarten classroom – ‘it’s the last one on the right’ – down which my grandson travelled last year to learn from his kindergarten teacher Ruth Jones the same things I learned – what everyone learns – when they have a teacher like those two:
Everything we needed to know.
So awestruck were Jacob’s classmates that such a picture was to be taken that they lined up as quiet as well-schooled kindergartners can be to witness the momentous occasion.
On the same polished red-tiled floors.
Perhaps it goes without saying, but nevertheless it must be rhetorically asked – especially so in Miss Luella’s example: is not the great object of education to inspire the student by way of the passionate teacher’s opening of the window to the world and, in that glimpse of possibilities, help them see what they could be; that their momentary unintelligible scribbles will one day have great significance; and that the journey of discovery begins now?
How our story ends depends most critically on how it begins.
With Luella Johnson.
Who has graduated: May 27, 1918 – March 21, 2014.
Todd Myers says
steve cissell says
Great story about a great lady who touched us all who had the privilege of crossing her path.
Alice Nelson says
I love what the author has said about our “Miss Luella.” My start in all things education began with this extraordinary woman. Although I was to have many years of education, she set the bar, the standard, for teaching excellence. And it wasn’t just that she had a good curriculum. She brought something to her students that is rare and not so easy to define.
She was enthusiastic. She greeted us every single morning with joy and excitement in her voice. This, we knew, would be the day of days. Whether we played hot ball, took naps or ate pancakes that she cooked at her desk, it would be a day teeming with color and excitement.
Funny thing, though. My very first day of Kindergarten in Miss Luella’s classroom didn’t exactly go well. I was seated at the back of the classroom. Near the muddy boots and damp coats. I watched her slowly make her way to each child’s desk, handing out a little red ticket. A magical ticket. A ticket that would give that child free – free! – entry to the Puyallup Fair.
Her trip towards me seemed interminable but get to me she did. But. She was by then empty handed. “I am out of fair tickets,” she said, her voice full of sadness.
Well! I decided then and there that 1. I hated school, 2. that Miss Luella did not like me and 3. I was leaving. Right. Now.
I ran out of the class, down the long, long hall, threw open the double doors and headed for Tillicum Park. Where I soothed myself by playing on the swings, the teeter totter, the slide. This, I knew, was where I belonged.
My mother, frantic, caught up with me and punctuated her anxiety with a few well placed smacks to my behind and the next day I was in class. To experience a joy for learning that would carry me through countless lectures in huge classrooms all over the country.
I love you Miss Luella. You were the best of the best. A star. A rock star amonst all teachers. I look forward to sitting at your knees again, you holding a big storybook, your voice full of wonder as you begin…”Once Upon A Time….”