The Teacher's Teacher

I had been at South Polk Elementary School for scarcely a month when Mrs. Morgan, the principal, came into my second grade classroom during my morning work instructions with her long yellow legal pad and a parent whose body language exuded anger. She pulled out a couple of chairs and said, “Go right ahead. We’re just going to observe for a few minutes.” Once they settled into their seats, Mrs. Morgan began writing as if she were taking dictation. For the next half hour, I taught with one corner of my mind wondering what kind of school I had gotten myself into.

I would learn that Mrs. Morgan’s yellow legal pad was my friend. Another teacher assured me when we took our classes to the library later that morning that there was a reason behind this strange behavior and volunteered to watch my class while I went down to ask what it was.

Mrs. Morgan told me the mother was sure I had done something to her daughter to make her unhappy in school and would not be persuaded otherwise short of an unannounced visit to see me in action. Mrs. Morgan insisted on coming with her. As I would learn, she could take down more of what happened in a classroom on that yellow legal pad than a video could record. She took the mother back to the office after their observation and went through everything I said and did and every student question, response, or reaction and explained the educational principles behind the entire morning’s lesson.

I thought about her this week as much has been said about Teacher Appreciation Week. Before she was a principal, Mrs. Morgan was a wonderful classroom teacher. She saw her role as a teacher of teachers. Frequently, she was called on to do educational workshops and often borrowed a book given to me by an adult student in my Sunday school class called The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died and Teacher You Went Right On by Albert Cullum. Sadly the book is out of print, and the only grudge I hold against Mrs. Morgan is that she forgot to return it the last time she borrowed it. The premise of the book is the extreme importance of seizing every teachable moment in the classroom regardless of what is in the lesson plan.

Mrs. Morgan had standards. Woe to the teacher who was caught without lesson plans at least one week in advance. Double woe to the teacher who failed to address a child’s needs. And triple woe to the teacher who failed to notice that the geranium on the windowsill just died.

And the little girl who first made me acquainted with Mrs. Morgan’s yellow pad? In time, we learned she had been the classroom princess in another school the previous year. In a class of mostly boys and a teacher who liked girls, she scored points with her pretty dresses and matching socks. What a comeuppance to get me and have a teacher who liked both boys and girls and expected them to exercise their brains!

This week, and every week, I appreciate teachers and the principals who encourage them to make good plans with flexibility for dead geraniums.