Mama Madison: Love for teachers

At the end of the school year, parting is hard

To honor the school year's imminent end, my '80s-obsessed sixth grader has taken to humming the Reagan-era classic, The Final Countdown . But I really wish he'd turn "the dial" to another oldies station---ideally one from 1967.

Because I am feeling much more To Sir, with Love.

In a matter of days, my baby will graduate from fourth grade. This year she has had the privilege of being taught by a wonderful teacher, the only teacher since pre-school that all three of my kids have shared. And man could this woman give Sidney Poitier a run for his money.

I guess I've always had a special place in my heart for fourth grade teachers. It was my favorite year growing up, due in no small part to Sandra Goldsmith. Mrs. Goldsmith taught me why Thaddeus Kosciusko and Haym Solomon were so vital to the success of the American Revolution. She convinced me memorizing much of Longfellow's Paul Revere's Ride was a very good use of my time. To us students she was nothing short of brilliant and miraculous, kind of like Ms. Frizzle on The Magic School Bus. But she'd also do things like read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing out loud and laugh uncontrollably at the part where Fudge eats the turtle. And when she read Where the Red Fern Grows later in the year, she bawled so hard she couldn't even finish the chapter where Old Dan and Little Ann die. She was both superhuman and beautifully human at exactly the same time.

I have no idea if Mrs. Goldsmith is still alive----she'd have to be in her '80s by now. But there's no doubt she's long since retired. And I like to think her educational spirit has been reincarnated in my kids' fourth grade teacher, Ms. Mincberg.

This year my daughter discovered the joy in researching and writing a paper on the early railroads of Wisconsin. And the final report and poster she put together were terrific. But even better, she also fully understands, thanks to teacher feedback, where her work could have been stronger. She now recognizes it's was worth putting in the time to get her times tables down, even though the process might not have been pretty. And thanks to Ms. Mincberg, my daughter's understanding of commonly used literary devices is quite impressive for her age. I'm pretty sure she employs irony better than Alanis Morissette . And she can craft a metaphor like nobody's business.

Yes, fourth grade will always be special. Kids come in at nine years old in the fall, still seeming like little children. But by the time they leave in June, most have added a digit and are inching, if not diving, into tweendom. It's the perfect time to discover, with the help of a special teacher, what you are truly capable of.

I can still recite the first two stanzas of Paul Revere's Ride. To this day it is one of my greatest accomplishments. And my daughter will never underestimate the importance of the Soo Line Railroad to Wisconsin's history and development.

No, Ms. Goldsmith and Ms. Mincberg may not have taken us from "crayons to perfume", ala the Lulu classic.

But these two women sure took us somewhere pretty special.

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