I loved first grade.
Fifty-one years later, I still have vivid memories of my teacher, Miss Follett. She played the piano every day. She read to us from her giant book of poetry. She showed us photos of her trips to exotic places, like Alaska and Hawaii.
At Halloween we screamed in terror and delight when she hobbled into our classroom dressed as a witch. At Easter we followed “bunny tracks” throughout the school till they led us to a chest filled with panorama sugar eggs that Miss Follett had handmade, one for each of us. On our birthdays we sat at the special birthday desk that was decorated with crêpe paper streamers and balloons. Miss Follett would light the candles on the plaster of Paris birthday cake and the entire class would sing.
Miss Follett was also serious about learning. That was fine with me. One of the reasons I wanted to start first grade was because I desperately wanted to read. Words were all around me; I wanted to know their secrets.
I also remember Humpty Dumpty, Miss Follett’s form of behavior management. The Humpty Dumpty cookie jar sat on the corner of Miss Follett’s desk. If our class was very, very good, Humpty Dumpty might (mind you, might) be magically filled with cookies for us. No one ever wanted to do anything that would displease Humpty.
When I became a children’s author, Miss Follett attended one of my publication parties. It was a proud moment for both of us. When I autographed her book, I included doodles of my favorite first grade memories.
This last spring I came home from running errands to find a large box waiting in front of my door. When I removed the layers of bubble wrap, I discovered Miss Follett’s Humpty Dumpty cookie jar inside, along with this note:
Now that I am moving to senior housing and need to downsize,
it’s time for Humpty to find a new home. I thought
he might enjoy living in your studio.
Your First Grade Teacher
Miss Follett did indeed teach me to read. But she taught me a lot of other things as well. She taught me that adults can be both serious and playful. She taught me that art and music and poetry make life more beautiful. She taught me that the world is full of fascinating places, and that I can go visit them. She taught me that you are never too old to use your imagination.
And she taught me that teachers never stop caring about their students.