Thursday, May 5, 2016

Accolades To My Third Grade Teacher

My third grade teacher, Mrs. Esther Gilchrist, was picky about manners. We had personal hygiene checks. She checked our fingernails once a week and required us to fill out a chart about brushing our teeth. I think I lied on it.

If anyone’s finger got close to their nose, Mrs. Gilchrist would say the student’s name, tap her nose, shake her head, and say, “No-no.” 

Only a certain number of people could be walking around the room at a time. If we were in the library area, we squatted down. That way someone else could get up to turn in a paper or go the mathematics table. At times we looked like a bunch of Jack in the Boxes when she was busy with a reading group.

Why were we walking around during class anyway? Now that I think of it, Mrs. Gilchrist trusted us. She gave us a lot of freedom for being 8-year-olds. Here’s a rundown.

Me, in 3rd grade. I look ornery.
During work time, if we had to go to the restroom, I don't remember having to ask her—maybe because she was busy with a reading group. We signed a piece of paper taped to the back of her desk. I think we missed part of recess then.

We never ever sat in rows. Our desks were arranged in teams of four or six. Facing each other. 

Nobody sat in teams in 1975! Mrs. Gilchrist was before her time. I love that.
In the fall, our desks were arranged in a big square around a huge map of the town. I accidentally spilled milk on it during our cracker and milk break.

Mrs. Gilchrist was so gracious to me. I ruined part of it, but she knew I didn't do it on purpose. I don't remember if she let me have my snack at my desk anymore—wouldn't blame her if she placed me off to the side.

That map confused me too because I didn't know Hitchcock. I was a farm kid who’d never walked the streets of the town. I had a vague idea what a block was, but when we went to collect leaves, I was rather intimidated—my classmates seemed to know exactly where they were going, but I didn’t.

Up near the front of Mrs. Gilchrist’s classroom was a long table with a few record players and headphones. We'd listen to multiplication songs. We worked at our own pace memorizing and then quizzed out when we were ready to move on. Individual learning plan of sorts, I’d say—in the 70s, mind you—in rural South Dakota.

Like I said, Mrs. Gilchrist was ahead of her time.

Class of 1984 as 3rd graders at Hitchcock Elementary

It was in third grade math that I learned a trick. For 8+7 equaling 15, she taught us to think 7+7=14 +1 equals 15. To this day, that is how I figure out 8+7. I do a similar thing with 8+9. Those two answers aren't automatic for me. I do that trick every time when I’m adding in my head. Wonder if anyone else from the Class of 1984 does that. 

In 1974-75 school year, our classroom teachers also taught physical education. Mrs. Gilchrist had two long poles that we’d hold six to eight inches off the floor and then snap together in various rhythms that she taught us. Another set of students would do some sort of hopping maneuver through the poles.

I don't remember her demonstrating this, for she was an elegant lady who reminded me of Mrs. Howell on "Gilligan's Island," but she must have shown us. YouTube didn’t exist and a reeled movie was treat. 

This was the year we started going to the multi-purpose room for music. That’s where I took clarinet lessons a few years later from Mr. Wiens—read about the time he showed up at my house by clicking here. This was the huge room where Mrs. Gilchrist taught us to square dance.

Growing up Mennonite Brethren, we didn't dance, but Mom and Dad had no problem with me learning to square dance. I’d secretly hoped they'd say I couldn't do it, for we had to dance with the boys. Wasn't quite my thing—even though third grade was the year I married Jeff Waldner out by the cottonwood trees at recess. Anybody else have a grade school marriage?

Had you asked me as a child or a high school student if Mrs. Gilchrist was one of my favorite teachers, I’d have said, “No way!” She was too prim and proper. Too picky. Too lady-like. Too soft-spoken. Yes, I prefer boisterous teachers. Does that surprise anyone?

But now as an adult and a teacher myself, I see her in a more positive light. She had a way of engaging us in the course work. She insisted on neatness and order. She certainly knew her subject matter and beyond. She presented lessons with a mixture of traditional paper/pencil, hands-on activities, and technology. 

Maybe I am kind of like her. Minus the prim and proper because I teach middle school—we are far from proper. 

Because of Mrs. Gilchrist, I know the four food groups (this was before the food pyramid) which we charted on the chalkboard each day after noon recess. I know my cardinal directions, can write in cursive (although it sloppy now), and can function within a group. I understand arithmetic but am still waiting for the metric system to be fully adopted into American society like she said it would.
Mrs. Gilchrist

I look at her picture now, the one she gave me when I was her student. I see a pretty lady. Hair just so, straight teeth, lovely clothing, and hardly any make-up. She really was a beauty. Just as beautiful on the inside too in the way she dealt with me.

May she somehow know that this little girl really is sorry for writing Todd Tollefson a note asking him if he farted. I was pulled in the hallway and told, “Young ladies don’t talk like that. I’m really disappointed in you, Melodie.”

She had every right to call me out on that.

It’s a good thing though, that she didn’t see me place my hand flat on my desk and bend under all my fingers but one. Third grade was the year I figured out what the middle finger meant. I may not have been able to maneuver a city block, but I knew what the cows and the bulls were doing on the farm. I made the connection one day to the middle finger and realized it all.

Stunned. Grossed out. Looked at adults in a completely different way. Didn’t like that I knew that. I probably asked my best friend Gail, two years older, if I was right. Read more about Gail here.

This was also the year that Gail and I, along with the high school girls we copied, got in trouble for writing on the school bus seats—in ink pen. Mrs. Gilchrist never said a word to me about it. She must have known I was already embarrassed when Superintendent Dale Schneider called me out of her class one morning to go scrub the seats with Comet. Read more about Mr. Schneider by clicking here.

Third grade was a lot of firsts. I got glasses, started piano lessons, and was allowed to spend the night at a friend’s house. I got my own Bible too. Looks like I needed that considering my fart-word use (my dad still forbids the use of that word; read where I learned the word here), vandalism, and discovery of the meaning of the f-word.

Thank you, Mrs. Gilchrist, for being one of the many who molded me.

Which teacher was in your life during your biggest times of discovery and mischief? What educator have you changed your mind about as the years have passed?


  1. Oh, my goodness. You are hilarious. We had family come stay back when my girls were middle school age. When they left, my daughter said, "She used the f-word." I said, "What did she say?" "Fart." Oh, my word. I laughed so hard. I didn't let the girls use that word either ... isn't that hilarious. I'll tell you why. Before kids, I was in a restaurant bathroom, and I heard a three-year-old girl say that. It just didn't sound lady-like. lol.