Friday, March 23, 2012

The Scintilla Project - Day 7

The prompts:
1. List the tribes you belong to: cultural, personal, literary, you get the drift. Talk about the experience of being in your element with your tribes.

2. Talk about a time when you saw your mother or father as a person independent of his or her identity as your parent.

Number 2, you're up.
 Before she married my father, my mother taught school in rural Wisconsin and Minnesota communities, sometimes living with a host family, teaching all grades. She didn't have a bachelor's degree, she had the number of college credit hours it took back in the 1940s to get a teaching certificate, and during the summers, continued to work on her degree.

After my folks married, she taught just one year in the tiny district where my father was superintendent. And she got pregnant with me, partly, I think, to avoid another year of trying to be a teacher AND the superintendent's wife (my dad was in charge of consolidating several rural school districts: not a popular move in many of those little Minnesota towns).

Nearly three years later, my brother was born, and Mother stayed home with us until my brother was in first grade (about 1956, I think), when she accepted a teaching job teaching fourth grade at a district slightly outside of  the Springfield (Mo.) city limits. The city schools required a bachelor's degree; Pleasant View did not.

So she also went back to school in the summers, to what was then Southwest Missouri State Teacher's College.

After that first year, we moved to a house that was actually within walking distance -- a long walk, to be sure, but walkable -- of the college, although she still taught at the same school. I remember her studying diligently, sometimes sending us off to the summer programs at a nearby city park, or to the swimming pool at another park, also nearby,  so she could have some uninterrupted study time. She'd sit under the pear tree with pencil and paper, taking notes and reading thick textbooks, sipping iced tea.

This student was my mother, but she was a beloved teacher to many students as well, and I got to see that side of her on the rare occasions when we'd be allowed to come to open houses or school events, and to meet some of her students there.

She did not drive at that time. She rode to teach school with other teachers; she either walked or took the city bus (which stopped across the street from our house) anywhere she needed to go, and so did we, when she finally allowed us to go unaccompanied.

And when I was about to graduate from eighth grade in 1961, she graduated from college, cum laude. I remember sitting in the gymnasium bleachers, watching as black-gowned and capped student after student walked across the dais to receive a diploma and handshake from the college's regent.

And then it was my mother's turn. "Marjorie Mae Dahl Kershaw," the announcer intoned. "Bachelor of Science in Education." There she was, my mother, smiling as she accepted the sheepskin and shook hands. We clapped loudly, although we didn't dare cheer at such a solemn event, unlike the graduation ceremonies of today.

That year, she began teaching at a school in town, still some distance from our house, precious degree in hand. But she didn't stop there: she began taking classes at Drury College towards her masters degree. And two years later, as I was about to turn 16 and get a driver's license, SHE took a summer class in driver's education and got her license just months before I did, in a little 1950-something Nash Rambler automatic shift car that my dad had purchased for her because she so hated the stick shift car that he always drove. Bonus for me: I got to take my test in that car too.

I don't remember the year she got her masters; I don't remember if I was at the graduation ceremony. I do remember seeing her in her academic hood, and I am pretty sure that she graduated with honors again.

My mother continued to teach fourth, fifth, or sixth grades in the Springfield district until she retired in 1981 with my dad because they wanted to travel and do things together rather than wait another five years. She was 60 years old.

She received yearly letters and cards until she died from not only the student teachers she'd mentored over the years, but also from so many of the students she taught, even back as far as Pleasant View. At least three of them came to her memorial service in 2005.

Her influence and skill as a classroom teacher garnered her district-wide recognition and praise, and her principals loved her. I was proud of her, my mother, the teacher Mrs. Kershaw.


Becky (Chandler) Aldridge said...

You mother was my fourth grade teacher at Pleasant View (1957-1958), and how I loved her! She told her fourth graders about life in Minnesota . . . about hot steam baths followed by dips into the cold, cold Great Lakes. I thought, How brave! And I still smile at this remark: Mrs. Kershaw adjusted the blinds in our classroom one day and announced to her fourth graders, who watched and listened with rapt attention, It takes people down here all day to buy a tube of toothpaste. I believe that was the sum total of discussion on that subject. . . :-) I grew to appreciate the comment and have wondered, as an adult, what might have prompted it! I'm so glad to have found your memories of your mother . . . among my mother's papers, I've found a mimeographed Christmas greeting sent in 1957 from the school to families, with teachers' names listed . . . hoping to find information about Mrs. Kershaw, I googled "marjorie Kershaw teacher pleasant view" and find in your lines about your mother the reacher I remember . . . wise, intelligent, determined, kind.

Beth said...

Becky, she loved you and considered you one of her all-time favorite students. I believe you gave her a book of poetry one year, and I thought I still had it on my shelves, but a quick look did not turn it up. I am so glad you liked my story about Mother. Thank you. I think we're about the same age, you and I. I turned 10 that year, about fourth grade age.

And I have no idea what she meant about the toothpaste, but it sounds like her.

I still have letters and pictures from those years in her things. I miss her every day, and it's been eight years in October since she died.

Becky said...

It makes me feel so good to read that Mrs. Kershaw loved me, too. . . . I felt her respect . . . she asked me to record attendance in her classroom each day, and I responded to that trust as only a fourth-grader in the 50's might have . . . so proud at having been asked to "keep the books," as our principal, smiling, referred to it. . . .

That Mrs. Kershaw respected all of her students came through loud and clear, and it's fair to say that many of her students made an obvious effort to follow her example in showing kindness to each other; our classroom was orderly and conducive to learning.

I learned much in fourth grade . . . and I believe it was that year in which we were treated to bowls of home-made ambrosia following our study of Greek mythology.

The "toothpaste" story was only a blip in an otherwise nose-to-the-grindstone year . . . we wasted no time in fourth grade. But it's one of those random things that this child found compelling and thought-provoking.

I would like to take credit for having given your mother the book of poetry but don't recall having done that. -I moved to Mesa, Arizona, in '71, following my marriage, and have lived in Mesa all of the past 42 years.

I understand how you miss your mother. . . . My mom died a year and a half ago, and I learned that it is more difficult than I might have imagined to let go of a good mother.