Once Upon a Time

Can you think back to a favorite teacher you had in school? Can you see her face, hear her voice, recall her style? Through the years have you thought about her and wished you could see her now to reminisce about old times? Together recall some classroom antics, impressions, and memories?

Unable to recall what I did yesterday, I have an uncanny memory concerning my elementary school days. Thanks to social media’s benefit of reconnecting old friends, today I experienced a surreal encounter, one most of us never have the opportunity to see to fruition. Let me take you back.

The school calendar read 1974–75, forty years ago. I was a seventh grader in a Dekalb County elementary school back in the day when the schools combined first through seventh graders in one building, about thirty students per classroom with a sole teacher, and discipline wasn’t even an issue. Each grade consisted of four classrooms, and the upper grades changed classes so every student had each teacher for at least one class daily. The system worked. It worked well.
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After leaving my assigned safety patrol post where I corralled waiting students in line until the morning bell, I rushed to my duty as the assistant office patrol, where at 8:35 I pushed the bell ten short rings to signal the patrols at the flagpole to hoist Old Glory to the top. A peek inside every classroom would show boys and girls standing with hands over their hearts as everyone recited the Pledge of Allegiance followed by the Georgia pledge. Students arriving after the flag bell had to stop by the office for us to sign them in and give them a tardy slip.

Part of what made this “senior year” of elementary school so memorable was Suzi Green. She was young, hip, and adorable. She was a saucy little mini-skirt-clad number who ruled her classroom with creativity and style, Decatur’s own version of Rhoda Morgenstern. She’s the teacher all the girls dreamed of becoming and all the boys dreamed of nightly.

Miss Green taught English and Reading to the advanced readers—the level 3s and high 2s. I was a high 2—better than average but not quite a genius. After I’d signed in the last latecomer, the school secretary would dismiss me so I could head to class. I’d find my seat near the bank of windows over in the high-2 section. We were sequestered off to the side while the other three-quarters of the classroom boasted the smartypants. This arrangement set me up to want to work harder, to be a high achiever, to be recognized as one capable of great things, better than average. I can see that room as clear as day in my mind’s eye. I recall our Think & Do books that went along with the readers, books filled with short stories to teach us new vocabulary and comprehension skills. I remember our slim spelling books with the callouts that detailed certain words’ origins, their Anglo-Saxon or Latin roots.

I see Miss Green’s wooden hall-pass hanging on the doorknob of the supply closet next to the entry. She allowed us permission to grab the hall-pass to excuse ourselves to the restroom when we needed to go without disrupting class by asking her permission. She trusted us not to misuse that privilege, so we didn’t.

She monitored timed relay games of alphabetizing our spelling words on the blackboard. Or was it green? A detail has become fuzzy over the almost-half century; regardless, as a result I became a master finding words in the dictionary. Suzi Green made learning fun, and her students adored her. Imagine how thrilled we were to learn she would be our chaperone to Washington, D.C. on our patrol trip. Our grown-up gal pal boarded the train with us and managed to keep the silly girls safe and accounted for in the nation’s capitol during the Ford administration. The trip wouldn’t have been the same without Miss Green on board. 3291_1134055998616_2179666_n-1

November 7, 1974 was a Thursday most like any other day of the week to a kid back then. If you had looked me in the eye and told me the following, I would’ve thought you were crazy.

Forty years from today you will meet up with Miss Green in a town midway between your two homes. You’ll talk for hours and catch up on life. Except for her name, you’ll notice she hasn’t changed a bit, though you will have grown from a girl into a mom. You’ll talk about today and some of your classmates; you’ll talk about your husbands and the dogs you will have in the future. You’ll meet for lunch, but you won’t eat too much since your mouths are busy with words. Though you see her as a grown-up now, you’ll wonder how in the world she could’ve been old enough to be your teacher. You’ll thank her for all she did for you and how special she was to your classmates. You’ll laugh and smile and be grateful she was a part of your life. You will stay connected with technology that has yet to be invented, and you’ll be astonished at how quickly the years passed. I know it sounds like a long time from now, but mark my words, it will fly by.

Indeed, that is what happened today. I met my former Miss Green in a restaurant halfway between our two homes. We talked for hours about our old days at Columbia Elementary, our families, our dogs. We gazed at each other in disbelief and laughed and felt more like peers than a student with a teacher at the table. Today something very special happened for me, sharing memories of a precious time in my life, a time so vivid in my mind, and seeing my former reading teacher validated those memories as proof they really did happen, once upon a time.

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