Dancing teachers in jeans far cry from yesteryear

Published 8:57 am Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Today’s Special

By Peggy Walker, R.D.

DW and I have noted with enjoyment the difference in today’s and yesterday’s teachers.  Our DIL Kathleen is a second grade teacher in DeSoto County and DIL Laura taught fourth grade before getting her library science degree and becoming an elementary school librarian here in Jackson, TN. 

To welcome the kiddos back to school and usher in the 2021-22 school year, teachers at both schools donned matching T- shirts and jeans and sang and danced across the stage to the delight of the children.  But, that’s not exactly the way it was in 1958, when DW and I started school. 

Teachers were prim and proper and definitely did not wear T-shirts and certainly not blue jeans, not even slacks in the classroom. So, DW and I have reminisced.

I started first grade at Sherwood Elementary in Memphis. I walked three blocks with the neighborhood children while our mothers stood on the corner and watched us until we were out of sight.  Mrs. Long was my teacher. I remember my blue book satchel and her reddish colored hair.  

Funny though, when I was a freshman at Freed-Hardeman University, in chapel I was seated next to another student who was from Memphis.  As we talked, we discovered that he too went to Sherwood Elementary and even more coincidental, was in Mrs. Long’s class. Small world.

DW attended Oakland School from first grade through the ninth grade. He remembers that he had a new first grade teacher. The previous longtime teacher had retired after teaching his brother Benny the previous year, his sister Charlene 12 years before, and even their mother! There was very little teacher turnover at this beloved little rural community school where everybody knew everybody and their families.

By second grade my family had moved back to Holly Springs. My teacher was Mrs. Elliot. Momma was a little leery of her because she wasn’t a hometown girl and “not proven.” Her husband was in Law School at Ole Miss and she drove every day from Oxford.  But I learned to read that year and I conquered my fears of swinging high on the playground swings. We had such fun at recess.  

Back in Oakland DW was in Mrs. Bailey’s class, another longtime, well-known teacher, well respected in their community. He described this genteel lady as kind, thoughtful, and proper. At Oakland school there was only one class per grade.

My third grade teacher was Mrs. Thomas, she was rather stern and usually wore a belted shirtwaist dress and black heels. I remember doing worksheets and the smell of the mimeograph machine.  It was in this class that I learned about WMPS radio and the top 40 songs of the day.  Classmate Allen Green had older siblings and he would tell us all about the music he heard from their radios. Soon I had a little black transistor radio propped on the sink every night while I took a bath so I could join in on the conversation the next day.

Miss Cook was my favorite teacher ever.  She was so kind hearted but she is the only teacher who ever had to discipline me.  I was turned around in my desk…not talking, but listening to the conversation going on behind me.  She came up behind me and pulled my ponytail.  I was so embarrassed, that sure never happened again. 

DW remembers his fourth grade teacher being a strong disciplinarian. He denies ever getting the opportunity to experience the razor strap she kept on her desk because he knew better and feared what his momma might do to him.  But, he adds, Mrs. Mitchell was known for treating all of her students fairly.

The next year, the fifth and sixth grades were moved into the new Sally Cochran Elementary School, with it’s nice and roomy library where we would later line up to receive our sugar cubes dosed with the new polio vaccine.   In these grades we ran and played on the Holly High football field at recess.  Mrs. Berkley was my fifth grade teacher; I remember learning many things that year and that I didn’t want to play basketball even though I was taller than everyone except Johnny Hill.  We learned to write in cursive that year too.  And, bless her, it fell Mrs. Berkley’s lot to explain to us what happened to President Kennedy that day in November. 

For sixth grade I moved across the hall to Mrs. Vanzant’s homeroom.  I liked her too. She lived around the corner from my in-town grandparents.  And it was such an honor to be selected to go up to the High School office for the teacher except when the bell rang and hundreds of high school students suddenly filled the halls. I’d stand against the wall, terrified, waiting until the halls cleared.  But I loved walking past the library, for my parents smiled down on me from their Senior class composites hanging above the doorway.  Mrs. Woods was the other sixth grade teacher and she taught us art which I dearly loved! My mother kept my duck picture made of beans and seeds until the weevils finally ate it up.  

In elementary school we started out with the pledge of allegiance every morning, had chocolate milk for homeroom time, filed in single row to the weekly Friday assembly in the high school auditorium for announcements, programs, sometimes a pep rally; and it always closed with the School Alma Mater.  Oh school days!  But when I think about it, I do believe the only difference in teachers then and now is the clothes.  Teachers still teach, discipline, love, care, protect, and lead.  Carry on teachers and thank you!