Upon entering the fifth grade at Slippery Branch Elementary School, at last, Sissie Stevenson and Spud McKenna find the teacher who will fill their empty bag of knowledge, Mrs. Clara Sue Martin. I had my own experience with an extraordinary elementary school teacher. Her name was Miss Thelma Hanson.
When I started school in 1955 in Georgia, there was no kindergarten. We simply began school the day after Labor Day, the first September after our sixth birthday, ready or not. Fortunately, before I started first grade, my mother and my sister had already taught me how to read, write, and spell. They instilled in me an appreciation for education. I was so excited about starting school, because I was finally going to be in the first grade, and I was going to be in Miss Hanson’s class.
I had already come to know that extraordinary lady. She taught my sister, so I had met Miss Hanson at a PTA meeting. I thought it was amazing that she was a teacher. I looked at her with a sense of awe. Even before I started to school, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher like Miss Hanson. After that first PTA meeting, I went by to visit her every time we were at the school, and she found the time to talk to me, even though I hadn’t yet started school.
My new little classroom at Shiloh Elementary School was quite an unusual experience. Our heat was provided by a coal-burning stove in the classroom. A brick kept the hot stove door closed. In that one classroom Miss Hanson taught first, second, and third grade simultaneously – every day. We were rural students without much money, but our parents had big dreams for us.
When I finished my reading assignments in class, Miss Hanson would let me sit in the back of the room. That was the best place to be, for there were shelves containing books that I could choose to read. I will never forget the The Ugly Duckling. It became my favorite book, and I read it many times. There was something intriguing about a creature once perceived as being very ugly who turned into something unexpected and lovely. The ugly duckling discovered its true self, a metamorphosis that repeats itself over and over again in the classroom of a dedicated educator.
Perhaps my 1955 definition of extraordinary is not quite the same as today’s meaning of that word, but all I know is that Miss Hanson was the one who set me on course to become a teacher. She went on to teach me in the second and third grade. Because of her, I knew that I had to be a teacher. There was no other profession that I ever wanted, even as a young child. And that desire to teach continued throughout all of my school years. I still can’t seem to give up teaching, and I’m retired!
My sister and my mother gave me the gift of reading, and I will be forever grateful to them for their gift. But it was Miss Thelma Hanson who led me to discover the joy of reading and teaching, and fifty-eight years later, I still experience that joy.