School is starting in many places today. A great time to remember my greatest teacher.
The greatest teacher who ever lived, worked in Milk River, Alberta.
In the Junior High School.
I was terrified of her.
Then I loved her.
Mrs. Wollersheim TAUGHT Social and Math.
Notice the capitals for emphasis?
I meant to put them there.
My first experience with Mrs. W was in grade seven.
I'll never forget it.
I was one of the former grade six kings and queens of Milk River Elementary, now demoted to the lowest of the low.
Grade seven in the Junior/Senior high school.
I was a worm.
Already intimidated by my surroundings, I and my classmates were seated in our desks in Mrs. W's room, awaiting the next instalment in terror that Junior High was turning out to be.
We didn't wait long.
From down the hall, outside the wide-open classroom door, we heard a sound. A steady 'Creak. Creak'.
I should mention, here, that our school was old. Methuselah old. And creaky. In fact, it would have made an excellent set for a horror movie, "The Killer Who Terrorized the Grade Sevens in the Old, Creaky School."
Okay. Movie-writing was never meant to be my forte. (Oooo. Italian.)
Moving on . . .
Each member of the class stiffened into attention, all eyes were trained on the doorway.
A trickle of sweat traced a path down the temple of the kid in front of me.
Okay, I'm exaggerating. But you have to admit that, for a moment, I had you.
Okay, you don't have to admit it.
A hollow voice rang down the hall.
"Ahem. Now class . . ."
I should point out that Mrs. W never, ever waited until she was visible to begin teaching.
She didn't have to.
" . . . and that's what we are going to do today."
She appeared in the doorway. A short, heavy-set woman in a print dress, with her hair pinned back into a bun. Sharp eyes covered by thick spectacles. And flat, black walking shoes, capable of carrying the wearer through an entire day of teaching.
The anticipation was over.
We were, at last face to face.
So to speak.
The class shivered en masse. (I'm on fire today! A French term. I think it means all together.)
She looked us over.
We sat, frozen in our desks.
Does a teacher's visual acuity depend upon movement?
She moved forward. "The first thing you will have to learn, class, is that when I walk into the room, your books and notebooks will be opened to the correct page and you will be ready to learn."
Frantic zipping of binders (zippers were the newest, coolest thing on binders) and shuffling of paper.
Finally, silence once more.
Mrs. W had reached the front of the room and was standing to one side of the desk, watching us.
We felt like proverbial mice in the gaze of the proverbial hawk.
Our reaction was anything but proverbial.
I'm not sure, but I think a couple of students wet themselves.
She nodded and began to teach.
And, despite our misgivings, we began to learn.
And the first thing we learned was that, though she appeared to be a tyrant in the classroom, she was anything but.
Oh, she demanded respect.
And got it.
Even the class clowns showed only exemplary (real word) behavior when seated under her watchful eyes.
But she would do almost anything to have us succeed.
Every one of us.
At anything we tried.
If we were having difficulty with a concept, even if it was a subject taught by another teacher, she would bundle us off to her home. Feed us with the rest of her family.
If any of us were involved in extra-curricular activities, she was on the front row for concerts and athletics.
My brother had decided to serve a mission for our Church and though she was of a different denomination, she was there in the chapel, both for his farewell talk, and for his homecoming.
And she did this for approximately 100 students.
For 35 + years.
The things she taught us could never be found within the covers of a school textbook.
"You'll get it. Let's try again."
Respect and obedience.
"Mr. Russell. Would you mind putting that away and joining us?"
"How many of you are there? Well, I'm sure you'll all fit in the front room. If not, we'll jam some into the kitchen. Come in, come in. Let's have some hot chocolate. Don't worry about your boots. Jake'll clean up later. Okay, now what Christmas carols are you going to sing for me?"
Any Social or mathematics I learned, I got from her.
Any sense of discipline?
Mrs. Wollersheim is gone now.
She spent her last few years in a nursing home in Milk River, her brilliant mind alive, her physical self hampered by disease and old age.
But she left a legacy.
Her love for us.