|Adams Elementary School|
I wrote last time about the enormous influence of Mrs. Rockwell (my fourth-grade teacher, 1953-54), about her reading to us after recess (if we were "good"), about how she read to us The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (expurgated!), about how my friend Pete Asplund and I ran around our neighborhood as if we were Tom and Huck, as if we had a Mississippi River nearby ...
But those reading-after-recess experiences with her are about the only specific things I can recall from that long-ago school year. I remember the classroom--old wooden desks bolted to the floor in rows; I know that we must have done worksheets and turned in book reports; we must have done arithmetic problems and penmanship exercises; we must have gone to music and art classes occasionally; we must have read through our reading books; and on and on. But I can't remember any of it. Not precisely.
Oh, I just remembered! I remember a book report I did for her--a little biography of George Washington Carver--George Carver: Boy Scientist (1944), part of the Childhood of Famous Americans Series (Bobbs-Merrill). (The copy you see is one I bought, years later.)
But what else do I remember? Mrs. Rockwell. Her kindness. Her acceptance of all of us. Her intelligence. The feeling that I actually wanted to be in her classroom. That I felt safe there. That I didn't want to disappoint her (though, of course, I'm sure I did).
I was a pretty good student then. Worked hard for her. I do remember, though, that Mrs. Rockwell and others would mark me down for Keeps hands and materials away from mouth. I guess I remained a bit ... oral?
When I became a teacher myself in the fall of 1966, I am sure that I did not really think about Mrs. Rockwell's classroom--so much had happened in the interim--but I am confident, as well, sitting here right now, thinking about her, that she had a silent and subtle effect on me. I felt (if not knew) that I wanted a classroom like hers--not a place with desks bolted to the floor (those days were over!), but a place where kids felt safe, where we were kind to one another, where kids wanted to be, where they wanted to learn.
That didn't always happen, of course--let me be the first to say so. But it's what I wanted. What I sought.
And now ... in our recent days of Test Mania ... our educational leaders seem to have forgotten the lessons of the Mrs. Rockwells. How do I--how can I--"measure" what she did? What test is there that can in any way--with any accuracy whatsoever--delineate the boundless boundaries of her heart, the richness of that room? Or measure--then, now--the enduring influence she would have on me--without my even knowing it, without my even suspecting it?
On August 21, 2004, I was in Enid, researching the book that would become Turning Pages: A Memoir of Books and Libraries and Loss (Kindle Direct, 2012). Among my stops was the Museum of the Cherokee Strip in Enid, where I hoped to find some information about Enid's old Carnegie Library, which Enid (curses! curses!) had razed in 1972. (The museum did have a library display--with some artifacts.) But I found something else there that totally surprised me, as this little excerpt from my memoir shows ...
I am yet again in Enid on a research trip. At the Museum of the Cherokee Strip I am looking again at a book I have consulted several times before, the two-volume history of Garfield County published in 1983.
Now I need the complete citation for the book. And in the front, there is the editor’s name: Stella Rockwell. I have never noticed it, not all the times I have used these wonderful volumes.
I tell the curator that Mrs. Rockwell was my fourth grade teacher—and a great one. He smiles. He knows. She’s a relative. And he tells me that in 1993, her labors complete, she died.
I now own those books.
Next time--the final installment: Some recent research into Mrs. Rockwell's life and career ... some surprises for me ...