When I learned that Mrs. M was going to be teaching first grade, I told her that this was a wonderful thing, but that it would make her a tone-setter. “People remember their first-grade teachers,” I said, “in a way they probably don’t remember many other teachers down the line.”
When I told her that, I was thinking of my own first-grade teacher, Mrs. Rosemary Stanley. She taught for more than 50 years, at least 35 of which were spent at my school in the Nashville burbs. She was astonishingly upbeat and loving, but she was also a talented, resourceful teacher.
What do I mean? Well, I’ve mentioned before that I was an unusual child. When I entered Mrs. Stanley’s class in 1971, I was reading on an 8th-grade level. Some years later, she told me that she wasn’t exactly sure how she was going to handle having me in her class, as she had 27 other kids that she had to teach, but she didn’t want me to get bored out of my skull. So she talked to my folks, and they decided that I should do the whole primer/reading group thing with the other kids so I wouldn’t be flagrantly odd (at least no more than I ever was, which was and is considerable), but that she would find other stuff that might interest me as well. One of those things was a supplemental reading and comprehension series that she borrowed from the teacher in a higher grade. I was supposed to work my way through the color-coded sections and take the little quizzes that went with that. I did for a few weeks, but then I jumped ahead and finished the last section, so we had to find something else.
In a stroke of genius, she came up with the idea of a newspaper, The Stanley Steamer. I was named editor (and was quickly joined by the other literate kid in the class), and when I got done with my work, I would go to my “office” in the corner of the room and wait for other kids to come and dictate their news items to me. I even tried cartooning — one issue had a pair of Romans playing golf, as one yelled “IV!” I still have a few copies somewhere, and I found out this morning that I wasn’t the only one.
How much of an impression did she make? Eight years ago, during my first year at Mondoville, I did some cyberstalking, and called two of my elementary teachers: my sixth grade teacher and Mrs. Stanley. “I just wanted to let you know I seem to be turning out OK,” I said. She told me she had never doubted it (which put her ahead of me), and I reminded her that because she had set the tone back in 1971, I had kept a basically positive attitude about school.
When I told her I was married to an elementary teacher, she laughed. “You know, when you were in second grade, you wrote me a letter asking if I’d stop being Mrs. Stanley and become Mrs. Moore. I kept it.” We laughed, and talked a bit longer, and that was the last time we spoke, although from time to time, friends of mine in Nashville would mention having seen her around town at the store or on errands. One of her sons went on to become a city councilman for a number of years as well.
She was an award-winning teacher, and the playground at my elementary school is named for her, but I think the real proof of who she was and what she did can be found in the outpouring of love and memories I saw this morning on Facebook. And this one is mine. Thanks, Mrs. Stanley. Enjoy your rest.