Sitting in the molded plastic chair in the new classroom at the start of a new academic year in a new school, the alarmingly skinny girl leaned forward in anticipation. Her delicate shoulders squared, her hands clasped together on top of the desk, her serious brown eyes surveyed the room. None of the other kids had talked to her yet. The bell announcing the start of Frankie's third grade year pealed through the school - jarring.
There were about twenty children in the class and some were obviously well acquainted with each other. Frankie heard some of the girls giggling and sharing stories about summer camps and family vacations. Some of the boys were goofing off and doing gross things that boys do - belching, picking at body parts (their own) and saying words they thought were "dirty" but really weren't. The big round clock on the wall with the audibly moving hands clicked to 8:04 a.m. The kids all started looking around the room, craning their necks to see the door. Where was the teacher? It became unnaturally quiet for a room full of 8 and 9 year olds.
Then, with a whoosh and a squeaking of rubber-soled shoes on the floor, in walked a lovely woman with hair the color of straw, a light blue skirt and a blouse with so many flowers in the design it looked as if some of them might end up on the floor. Her arms were full of boxes and she looked like her slender frame would break under the load. She made her way carefully down a row of seats and plopped her burden on the floor next to the teacher's desk. "Good morning! I'm Mrs. Green and I'm the new third grade teacher." she said with a smile that would have lit up the entire room were a sudden and total solar eclipse to have occurred.
Frankie and the other children just stared at her. The previous third grade teacher, by all accounts, had been a sourpuss and all the kids, when they managed to think about school at all over the summer, had had varying degrees of anxiety about what third grade was going to be like. This smiling, pretty woman in front of the class left Frankie with the feeling you get when you think the M&M bag is empty and then suddenly realize there is still candy left inside.
Third grade was a swirl of joy, anxiety and revelation for Frankie. Mrs. Green was a voracious reader and introduced the class to many new worlds compliments of E.B. White, Ray Bradbury, Roald Dahl, Madeline L'Engle, etc... When she wasn't reading to the class, she was encouraging them to explore the various characters brought to the world by these incredibly ingenious creators or to generate their own. Mrs. Green acted as though each of the kids in her class was someone very special and the whole class seemed to meet her expectation - with a couple of exceptions. She was funny, sweet, challenging, thoughtful and a fierce proponent of all the kids in her charge avoiding dullard status. Frankie would sit in class and marvel at the energy and enthusiasm her teacher exhibited. Even in the midst of flurries of idiocy among her pupils, she would forge ahead with her lesson plan and a disarming grin and get the class moving in the right direction. Field trips, library visits, spelling bees and reading competitions peppered the year and inspired the children in her class to strive for and accomplish more than was expected.
At the end of the year, Frankie's head was overfull of imaginings and possibilities. She supposed that her peers were having similar experiences. Maybe not. That was the year that she got up one morning a few days before school started and rode her bike through the quiet neighborhood before most of the neighbors or even her family were awake feeling for all the world like Douglas Spaulding commanding the world to wake up/come alive in the opening chapter of Dandelion Wine. She had imagined that the new school year was going to be something special. And it was even more than that.
(For many years I've wanted to express my immense gratitude to Mrs. Green for making such a positive difference in my life. I'm not sure that I have adequately expressed my appreciation, but it's a start. I love you, Mrs. Green! Wherever you are, thanks!)