Pilot Tribune Guest Essay

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Teachers make all the difference

What I am not is a teacher.

What I wish I were is a teacher: the kind that ignites a fire in a child's

mind. A flame that never bums out.

Miss Gadke was that.

We were three weeks into the school year. Teachers in old South School were earnestly persuading their charges that the end of summer's freedom was

not the end of life.

In a room at the top of a flight of eroding concrete stairs, which even then sloped toward the middle, I sat cross-legged on the floor with eleven other squirming first-graders. The "Father of Our Country" looked down on us from an ornate frame hanging behind Miss Gadke's desk. On the opposite wall settlers in

"Westward Ho" gazed at their wagons crossing the prairie. The floors shone with layers of varnish, and the cumulative aromas of sweating small bodies drifted through the corridors.

I can't recall my teacher's face, but I remember she wore bright dresses that swished as she walked. She moved with a dancer's grace, raising and lowering her arms to tape lettered cardboard rectangles to the blackboard, a chair, a table and the desk. I knew some of the symbols on the cards, from the children's books in our house. Miss Gadke's hypnotic voice explained those shapes were words. She promised when we learned enough of them we would scoop them up, arrange and rearrange them in a line, and those words would talk

to us.

She joined us in our circle on the floor, perching daintily on a miniature chair. Across the room a door opened a crack, then wider, and Kenneth stole

timidly into the room. His shirt was rumpled, and he tripped on his shoe strings when he tried to discourage the bowlegged bulldog that sniffed and snuffled

behind him. Miss Gadke stood to make a space for Kenneth and his dog in the circle.

"What's your friend's name?"

Kenneth whispered. Miss Gadke smiled.

"Let's all learn to spell it."

She printed B-O-Z-0 on the blackboard. I was dizzy. I stared at the letters and fell in love with words. Wildly. Irrevocably. Forever.

Teachers who can seize the moment. Light the fire. They are national treasures. We need to nurture and protect them.

* Barbara Kearney, Storm Lake, is an accomplished writer and poet.