That Lightbulb Moment

Recently a group on Facebook that talks about "the good old days" in my home town, has been discussing a teacher that I had in third grade.  The discussion has been very insightful for me as while I realized that I was probably not the only person who loved Mrs. Williams, I had no idea that she once taught sixth grade!  (How could that have been possible???)

Third grade was a long time ago (longer than I care to admit), but despite all the years, I still remember Mrs. Williams vividly which just goes to show how much of an impact she had on me (and I'm sure a bevy of other children who passed through the town school system).

I remember her full name, Mrs. Gladys Williams.  (I don't remember the full names of all of my teachers, but those who made a lasting impact I do.  If you had Mrs. Williams she made an impact!).  I don't know if there was a Mr. Williams by the time I got to her third grade class.  In retrospect, I realize that she was an older woman, although I never thought of her as "old" when I was in her class.  I wanted to have her as a third grade teacher.  Most of the "studious" girls did and the "problem" boys did not!  She had a reputation as tough and she was. Even when she retired when I was in middle school (which would have been 3-5 years after I had her as a teacher), it never occurred to me that she was "old."  She was just Mrs. Williams.  And of course I went to her retirement gathering that the school gave in the gym one weekend afternoon.  How could I not?  I don't recall much about it, but I know I was there and that there were plenty of others there as well...both adults and children.

I wish I knew more about her background.  She was quite a character.  Very "old school" as they would say these days.  She had a very short, almost "mannish" haircut and  she rarely wore pants, and if she did it was a very "smart" pants suit.  She was always in in suits and very formal.  One thing that has stayed imprinted in my mind is that her purse and her shoes (pumps of course) always matched.  In my class photo that I managed to dig up she is smiling slightly, but still has that very stern look about her.

She was a tough teacher.  I remember when she taught us fractions.  I just couldn't get the concept when she wanted me to divide something into thirds.  I recall being up at her huge wood desk and having her explain it to me again.  With one of her Bic felt tip markers she drew on a piece of paper three lollipops and asked me to show 1/3.  I can recall vividly how I tried to take one lollipops and split it.  In my mind, a fraction had to be a part of ONE thing.  I think she got frustrated with me and took one of her pens and drew two lines so that each lollipop was physically separated from the other.  The light bulb went off for me.  I suddenly "got it."  I'll never forget that moment.  It has stayed with me for all these decades and I'm sure it will stay with me until for decades to come.

One last thing that Mrs. Williams instilled in us was her love of reading.  I can't recall if she read to us every day, but she did frequently in the afternoons read us a chapter of one of her many books.  There was Flight of the Doves by Walter Macken, Don't Take Teddy by Babbis Friis-Baastad, The Long Secret by Louise Fitzhugh, The Prince and The Pauper by Mark Twain and  The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.  I re-read them all on my own after I had moved on to the next grades.  And like Mrs. Williams, I fondly remember bits and pieces of the stories, although I don't always have a complete picture.  Perhaps now as an adult I should go back and read them again.  

I wish I could go back and thank Mrs. Williams again.  What happened after she retired?  I'm not certain.  In the corners of my brain I seem to think that she moved to California, though my I do not know.  (Did she have family there?  Friends?  Did she want to leave NJ?)  It's too late now, a reminder again to always thank those who teach and help you to grow.  I hope Mrs. Williams knew how much she meant to me and to all of those countless students she ushered through elementary school in her own unique style.


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