Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .

Monday, May 20, 2013

World's Best Teacher

A repost of my most popular blog. Because the best teachers deserve to be honored again.

The greatest teacher who ever lived, worked in Milk River, Alberta.
In the Junior High School.
I was terrified of her.
And 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 installment 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 (that's French).
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! That's another French term. I think it means all together.)
She looked us over.
Complete silence.
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.
And teach.
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.
Every year.
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 math 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.


  1. Thank you, Diane - a great tribute to a dedicated teacher and fine fine person. Tears are puddling in my eyes. Thank you!

  2. Now THAT is one Hell of a teacher. You truly lucked out.

  3. This was such a beautiful post. It brought back a memory of one of my favorite teachers. She was a third grade teacher and the rumor was that she was very strict and difficult. She ended up being my very favorite teacher and I learn so much from her.
    I guess I will thank you for the memory today; but most of all blessings for this one.

    1. I would love to hear more about your third grade teacher! What would we do without those every-so-dedicated, wonderful people?!

  4. I had a teacher that I never forgot, she always made me feel special... her name was Mrs Heighton.

    Your teacher sounded amazing Diane, she was one of the greats :)

    1. I'd love to hear about Mrs. Heighton! We sure are blessed by these wonderful people!

  5. Oh, goodness, you've reminded me of a couple of excellent teachers I had as a child. Respect, yes. Obedience, yes. Caring and had a sense of humour, yes! Mrs. Wollersheim sounds like a dear person and born to be a teacher. Lucky you!

    1. She was wonderful! Thank you! And I'd love to hear more about your teachers . . .

    2. You asked for it :) (can't find an email address for you, so I'll give the short version here, hope that's all right)

      My Grade P-3 teacher in our two-room school was amazing - she had rheumatoid arthritis in the days before there were any medicines, and she was crippled and in pain all the time (which I learned much later). Nevertheless, she was patient, kind, and a wonderful teacher, enriching our school experience with stacks of good books, a dollhouse and a model of the solar system (both hand-made), and a classroom goldfish; she also had one afternoon a week for art - we learned about famous painters and we got to do our own artwork. We had reading-out-loud time, which I LOVED (children read to the class). She took kids to her own home in pairs at year-end, to make sweets for the concert where we had a rhythm band, songs, skits, and usually a puppet show (we learned to make paper mache puppets and marionettes). It was a bookish child's dream of an education :)

      My teacher in the OTHER room of that school, for Grade 4-6, was a little stricter, but she had to be, because she had some recalcitrant "bad boys" who needed a firm hand and some snobbish older girls who needed their egos kept in check. But at heart she cared deeply about us too, and my favourite memory of her is every Friday afternoon when she would read out loud to us for the whole afternoon from a long book - the one I recall was "101 Dalmatians" (back probably when it was first written, haha). At Hallowe'en she gave us ice cream so we'd have to take our masks off and visit with her while we ate it! After she retired, this single lady went to (I believe) Manitoba and married the son of the folks she had boarded with when she was a beginner teacher. They had a number of happy years together. I was so happy for her that she had that love in her later years.

      Those were my first two teachers, and I think they were the best of all the ones I had - and I went to a large high school, with a teacher for every subject in every grade, practically, so that was quite a few teachers :)

      Thank you for the chance to visit these lovely memories once again!

    3. Oh, they do sound SO wonderful! Thank you for sharing them with me!

  6. Actually her mind went. When they implemented mandatory retirement at age 65, Ms. Helen had no choice. After all I think she was born when they signed the Declaration of Independence and moved to Canada from Minnesota around the time of the War of 1812. When she was forced to quit (even forbidden from tutoring) she just faded away. Too bad, she was the most dedicated teacher we ever had. I remember Ms. Helen always slurping and smacking in your ear. That's because she was always in danger of losing her dentures.

    1. I remember that! One of two reasons no one wanted to sit in the first two rows . . .
      Her granddaughter told me she could play a mean game of cards right up to the end. I like to think of her as I remember her most clearly - standing in front of the class and teaching.


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