Monday, September 24, 2012

CASE STUDY: Fourth Grade and Mrs Knoll

English: New Orleans, LA November 21, 2005 - B...
New Orleans, LA November 21, 2005 - Betsy Dekker (left), a fourth grade teacher at the New Orleans Free School. Photo by Greg Henshall / FEMA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
by Sharon Bloom

Growing up in a large Catholic family, of course I went to Catholic school, like all my brothers and sisters before me.

In the 1960's, most of the teachers were nuns, but there were a few stalwart souls who braved the low pay and were lay teachers. I'd like to tell you about my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Knoll.

Looking back as an adult, I can appreciate now the things she did for us ... back then you pretty much sighed and put up with it, because you had to. But now, I can see where the woman was a qualified miracle worker.

Mrs. Knoll was a no-nonsense Caucasian woman of advanced years (at least it seemed to me being only 9). She probably was in her 60's and after my class graduated, she retired. She wore her hair in a take-no-prisoners bun, but still gave off the reassuring grandmotherly vibe with her plump visage and twinkling blue eyes. She ran her classroom with discipline but kindness and her heart was as big as anything, even if she WAS awfully uncool to a 9 year old.

She brought in her own personal electronic organ and played and sung with wild abandon; it didn't matter that she had a terrible voice, she raised her voice in praise, with great joy. She taught us songs and ditties and sometimes played songs while we worked. She did the most important thing, which was make that classroom a safe, secure place where children could learn.

She taught us the arts and made us memorize poetry and prose and then recite it in class. Not only did that teach us memory skills, but it introduced us to art and literature and provided public speaking skills. This was in the time when Catholic schools did not have art or music classes, and most teachers did not include these subjects.

Catholic schools are notorious for no air conditioning, and we all watched the outside temperature gauge because, as childhood rumor went, if it went over 103F we got to go home. As a child I never realized what a scheduling nightmare that would be to call all those parents and hope they were available to pick up their children; and of course, this was before the days of cell phones and instant contact solutions. So, I can only remember one time we got to leave early.

On those very hot days, when you had gulped down lunch so you could get out to kickball and get picked for a team (even if it was last), you tore around the playground and when the bell rang, you stood in line, panting and sweaty, ready to go back into the classroom.

Being a smart lady, Mrs. Knoll had us line up, girls on the right, boys on the left. She would wait for all the other classes to go inside and then she would march us to the restrooms, where the girls would go in first and then line back up; then the boys would go in.

You got paper towels and wet them and wrung them out. You then put them around your neck or on your head, or you sucked on them to get the coolness on your face. She would march us into class, where we would all lay our heads down on our desks and she would start to read aloud.

Instantly, we calmed down and were transported to the Island of the Blue Dolphin, following Karana, the Indian girl on her island as she discovers she is alone. Just when it became exciting, she would close the book and tell us to get out our math books.

In later years, I would teach elementary school and I marvelled at her wisdom. She might have been old and underpaid, probably underappreciated; but she knew children. She understood their needs and took them to places to open their minds. She inspired them to learn and provided a safe environment where everyone was equal.

I wish I could have let her know how 40+ years later, I can still recite the lines of poetry she assigned me; how I remember her math games and holiday homemade treats she made in her wee hours at home. How the love came through and we were better for it.

We need more teachers like her today so our children will use their imaginations, read, sing and learn. So, up there in heaven, thanks, Mrs, Knoll. You made my fourth grade something I have remembered all these years. You made me a better teacher and touched a new generation of children.

SHARON BLOOM is a multi-award-winning artist, photographer, recycled artist,avid gardener, author and editor of a free family-oriented daily blog called "SHARE OUR GARDEN", which shares beautiful flower photos, inspirations, recipes, garden ideas, recycled art and humor. You can sign up for free at

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