Lessons From Mrs. Church

Mrs. Church stands in the far right of the back row.

I loved Mrs. Church, my 2nd grade teacher, from the very first day of school. Among other things, she taught a unit on Hawaii where we made grass skirts and learned songs about “going to a hukilau”: I still know the words. She let us sample real sugar cane and poi, each of us dipping our fingers into the community bowl with our two fingers. Lord knows where she got the stuff. She wore crazy, clunky necklaces that epitomized the 1970s – owls with big eyes, huge butterflies, giant yellow flowers. She wore two-piece, polyester, polka-dotted pantsuits, and her ragged-edged haircut made it appear she did the job herself at home.

Mrs. Church literally had my back, and she rescued me when a certain twit who sat at the desk directly behind me decided that it would be fun to cut my hair with his dull-bladed scissors. She must have read his mind because I barely felt the tug of his hands on the back of my head when she called out, “Mr. So-and-So, you may bring those scissors up to my desk now.”

She encouraged me to write and revise, and – eventually – to enter a writing contest held at our local library the spring of my 2nd grade year. I don’t know if I won or not (probably not), but I remember the way she made me feel: like I could do anything.

Please share a memory of one of your favorite teachers. What did he/she do that makes you remember him/her all these years later?

The prompt was to write about a favorite mentor in under 500 words. I wrote about this when my blog was very new, and I had very few followers. I’d love to honor my old teacher, a woman I think about nearly every day.

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21 responses to “Lessons From Mrs. Church

  1. Jeff Friedman

    I think it was third grade — Boy and Girl of the Week. We got to walk from school to Burger King. Not a shot in hell of that happening today.

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  2. Love this, as well as everything else you’ve written so far. I am a loyal follower of your blog. I just can’t remember much of anything before third grade except that I had Miss Pritchard for kindergarten.

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  3. My favorite teacher was in highschool. And from what I can remember most kids hated her. But I loved her and the class. I can’t give a specific reason, I just did. Thanks Mrs. Mathews!!!!!

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  4. Love the visual image of the 1970’s wardrobe and accessories! I remember those too!! Oy, the polyester pant suits…they were rampant in the 70’s!

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  5. Oh, Renee! How awesome! You brought it all back for me! But I must say I’m a lil’ grossed out at the fact that we all stuck our hand in the community bowl!!!! Man, I’ve become such a germaphobe in my old age! Can’t believe you really posted the picture, we all look so funny! You know I loved Mrs. Church as well, and can still remember the day she died. She was a fantastic teacher!

    Mr. Wenzel was my favorite! He really got me into art, made it exciting. I think I took every class he ever offered, and was even in his room during free time! He was a blast, and I thought he was the coolest thing going. He took a small desire inside of me and turned it into a monster! He was not just a great teacher, but an amazing artist as well. He taught me so much! Wow, I am almost gushing! He really made such an impact on my life. I wrote him a letter once telling him that, he was touched. As a teacher, well, hell, like anyone, you just try to make a difference, right? Even if its just one person that you change for the better, right? Perhaps, some of your readers will be inspired to write a letter to their favorite teacher (and/or person who inspired them), after they read your article. What a great way to make someone’s day.

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  6. Jeff Friedman

    Mr Wenzel did slap me in the face once. I had no art skill though!

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  7. Alan Grossman

    Hey . . . I went to Genesee Hills too! Did I know you did? I had Mrs. Church for 2nd grade. There, that ends my memories. Hmmm.. When were you there? Were we there at the same time?

    My daughter, Nicole, also went to Genesee Hills, except, when she was there it wad called Syracuse Hebrew Day School. My how things change . . .

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  8. I loved Mrs. Church. She was a dedicated, supportive, creative and understanding teacher.

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  9. Mrs. Church was an amazing teacher and person. I know this because she was my mother. I am sure I heard about all of you growing up. All of her students were part of her family. She died when she was younger than I am now and my own children, of course, never knew her but I will love sharing her with my children through your memories. She was not perfect but she did everything with such energy and passion and she was authentic! She did not know any strangers and she loved the unlovable. Everyday with her was like a great Disney ride and Christmas morning all wrapped into one. She made a trip to grocery store like Mardi Gras! Your memories brought big happy tears to my eyes. Every once and awhile its really nice to look back….

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    • Lauren, I feel so honored to have this cool connection to you, all these years later. Your mother is one of the reasons I write; one of the reasons I teach. I pray every child has a teacher like your mother at some point during their lives. She inspired us all to be our best selves. She let us laugh! Imagine, laughing in school! She made learning a joy. I cried the day I learned she had died because I never got a chance to tell her how much she impacted my life. I guess telling you is the next best thing!🙂

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  10. You want me to pick one favorite teacher? Yikes. I really have been blessed to have had so many wonderful ones. The teachers that inspired me the most, were the ones that took me for where I was and didn’t make me be something I wasn’t. I don’t mean they didn’t make me learn, but they didn’t mold me into what they thought I was supposed to be. The teachers that bucked my learning style shut me off, and made me angry. I wanted to feel free to ask questions, try things in a different way, to be creative. I hope that I am the kind of teacher now who shapes not molds, that lets students think outside the box, and that question so they can try things on their own. Teachers are some of the most powerful people in the world. They can make or break a student by what they say and do in one day, one class period, one minute in class. They need to be the best. Thank goodness I had the best, almost all of the time.

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  11. Definitely a sign of an amazing teacher!! And look at you now…still writing!

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  12. What is it about second grade? Ms. W was another angel, giving me books when I finished work early, encouraging me to tell my stories, and holding me in her arms just enough to know how loved I was.

    We had the Hawaii unit in 4th grade. we made grass skirts out of Glad bags. Truly one of my favorite moments.

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  13. I wonder if teachers truly realize the impact they can have, even by little things they probably never think about. Thanks so much for sharing!

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