She was the best, the very best, teacher. EVER. In twelve years of schooling, it’s Mrs. Loretta Simons I think of most frequently and most fondly for one simple reason: She treated us like little human beings. She treated us with respect. Fourth grade was pure joy for us students, and I think, also for Mrs. Loretta Simons.
Except for learning how to average numbers, I don’t specifically remember what I learned in 4th Grade. Oh, I’m sure I learned lots, but mere scholastics can’t hold a candle to what Mrs. Simons taught us, by example, about being wonderfully, joyfully human.
Each day after our post-lunch gym time, we trooped back to our upstairs classroom and settled down. That was when the magic happened. Mrs. Simons would pull up a chair and read to us. Just read to us, seemingly for hours (but I’m sure it wasn’t) from the most wonderful childrens’ books. The one I remember best is How To Eat Fried Worms.
Wikipedia summarizes the plot of the book:
“Alan challenges Billy to eat a worm a day for 15 days.
The winner gets $50. Tom prepares the worms in a variety of ways
to make them more appetizing, using condiments such as ketchup,
mustard, horseradish, and maple syrup.“
The trouble came when the boys ran out of time for cooking and Billy, in a panic to win the $50, had to eat the daily worm raw.
And that’s when Mrs. Simons started to laugh. I’m talking gut laughter. Belly laughter.
Her voices choking with laughter, her glasses in her lap, tears of laughter streaming down her face, Mrs. Simons read how Billy ate that raw worm. And all of us ten year olds laughed right along with her. It was a moment of pure joy.
Then there was art class. We made papier-mâché globes. What fun it was, every day, to smear newspaper and oatmeal glue, layer upon layer, over a balloon until we had a stiff, hollow-sounding globe ready to be painted with the continents. Best of all, we were allowed to talk while we worked, something that other teachers forbade, sometimes even during our lunch and even gym hour! Mrs. Simons knew we children needed to socialize, talk and laugh with each other.
Second best of all: the glue was edible. I know because the boys ate it to impress the girls.
Mrs. Simons goodness to us led us to be good to her. There was very little drama. Very little misbehavior. Very little punishment. Only one girl who came from a troubled home kicked up a fuss. Very sadly Mrs. Simons said, “I can lead a horse to water, but I can’t make her drink.” I’d never heard that saying before and never forgot it. Mrs. Simons had good boundaries.
She had a wisdom beyond so many of our other teachers. We weren’t merely brains to be stuffed full of knowledge. We weren’t little machines to be turned into some perfect automaton. We weren’t little sinners to be punished, punished and then punished some more.
We were little human beings who just wanted to be happy. To be treated with kindness and respect. Little people who wanted to talk to each other. To play with oatmeal glue. To draw or color and laugh uproariously while we learned how to eat fried worms!
Mrs. Simons knew that. She wasn’t afraid to be human herself. Her own humanity informed how humanely she treated us. She was the kind of lady you could run to, wrap your arms around and hug tightly. She made you want to hug her! Are teachers allowed to hug their students anymore or have a few bad apples ruined it for the whole barrel? Well, they say as long as there are tests, there will be prayer in school. As long as there are kind teachers, there will be hugs in school too. You couldn’t keep yourself from hugging Mrs. Simons. If she were here, I’d still give her a big hug!
Her kindness flowed from her deep faith in God. While other teachers at my Christian school made God seem either borning or like some hateful, vengeful ol’ meany who delighted in punishing us, Mrs. Simons made Him warm and loving. How well I remember returning to Mrs. Simons’ class when I was in 10th grade to tutor one of her Russian students. While I helped David with his reading, I could hear Mrs. Simons’ voice going up and down, on and on teaching her class about God. They may have been coloring pictures and appeared to be oblivious to her, but I know they heard and remembered everything she said.
For many years, I’ve wanted to tell Mrs. Simons what a wonderful teacher she was. But it was one of those things. The kind you put off and put off. Finally yesterday, I queried my school’s Facebook group to find her address. Within minutes, I had it. Everyone had such happy memories of Mrs. Simons. Whether you had her for fourth grade, fifth grade or kindergarten, everyone loved being in Mrs. Simons’ class.
Mrs. Simons taught hundreds, perhaps thousands of little children. Will she remember me? It doesn’t matter. Because I remember the woman who took the time to teach one little girl how to average numbers.
I’ll never forget that day. It was the end of the schoolyear and we’d all received our GPAs. But I wondered how my GPA was calculated.
So Mrs. Simons took the time away from her other thirty students to quickly teach one little girl how to average. It wasn’t in the curriculum for 4th grade. She taught me anyways. Each time I average a column of numbers, I think of Mrs. Simons. I thought of her in 2004 when I submitted a spreadsheet to the VP of my company for the very first time. That spreadsheet was full of averages. Done Mrs. Simon’s way. Long-hand.
The VP walked to my desk and, very kindly, suggested that I use the “=AVG()” formula in Excel. Aw shucks. I kinda’ looked doing it the long-hand way Mrs. Simons taught me. Using the Excel formula may be accurate but it takes all the fun out of it.
If you had a favorite teacher who treated you kindly, don’t wait to tell them. Find their address and send them a letter. Or email. Or card. Anything to let them know how much they touched your life. Tell them before it’s too late. I’m printing out this article to send to Mrs. Simons with a personal note.
I hope it makes her as happy as she made me and countless other children who laughed right along with her as tears of laughter streamed down her face while she read How To Eat Fried Worms.