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An Apple FROM the Teacher

The 50 or so kindergartners jumped off the bus this beautiful October morning, ready to pick apples and find themselves a pumpkin (the rule was that you had to be able to carry it yourself out of the patch).  There were dogs to be petted and Indian corn to be touched, and cornstocks to be examined too, but first the kids needed to sit down and listen to Mrs. Farmer Brown talk about apples and Johnny Appleseed.

Apple pickingThey were squirmy at first, and their teachers hovered over them to make sure they behaved themselves. Not to worry, though, because within three minutes Mrs. Farmer Brown had the kids’ rapt attention.  A petite, fit woman over 70, Mrs. Farmer Brown asked the kids what they already knew about apples and Johnny Appleseed.  Building on their knowledge, she showed them different kinds of apples and pumpkins.  Her teaching materials were big enough for everyone to see, attractive, and at her fingertips.  She kept the discussion moving, and doubled back to reinforce little bits of information.  She asked for volunteers, and the kids eagerly waved their hands to be chosen as a pumpkin in “Five Little Pumpkins, “ which they all sang with abandon.  Finally they were ready to climb onto the wagon to go out to the orchards.  Mrs. Farmer Brown drove the tractor herself.

That woman was a teacher, I said to myself.  She just knows how to work with little ones.  She knows how to talk to kids without being condescending.  She understands how to build on what they know and how to get them involved in their own learning.  She has to have been a teacher.

So when the kids had picked their apples and were having lunch under the sun-dappled trees, I introduced myself to Mrs. Farmer Brown and asked if she’d ever taught, explaining that I suspected from the way she worked with the kindergartners, she knew her way around a classroom.  I was right:  She had spent 43 years in the local schools as a teacher and principal.

Marsha Brown (she really is Mrs. Farmer Brown) grew up in New York City and came to Virginia to attend the College of William and Mary, intending to return to the city.  Instead she spent a lifetime teaching local kids and later teaching local teachers in her job as principal.

“Watching you with those kids, “ I said, “reminded me that I don’t really believe that anyone can teach.  Sometimes when I listen to all the criticism of teachers nowadays, it’s almost as if some people think that there’s really no skill involved – like anyone off the street could do just as good a job.”

“You’d like to see some of those folks try it, wouldn’t you?” she said.  “A friend of mine believes that good teachers are born, not made.  Now, I don’t believe that.  I’ve  always believed that if the spirit was willing, I could teach anyone how to teach or how to be a better teacher.  You can’t teach people to like kids, but if they already do, you can teach them to be a better classroom teacher. But it’s not that it doesn’t take skill.”

“And, “ she added, “I don’t buy the excuse today that kids can’t learn because they’re  poor or they come from dysfunctional homes, or whatever.  I always taught whoever came through the door.  I’m not going to say that I was completely successful with every student, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.  I felt that it was my JOB to teach every student in my classroom, and I really believe that all kids can learn.  You just do your very best for each individual child.”

The kids had eaten their lunches, wandered through the pumpkin patch, and were ready to hop back on the wagon to be taken back to their school bus.  They had had a wonderful day.

Mrs. Farmer Brown shook my hand and then climbed back up on the tractor.  Once a teacher, always a teacher, I thought. We’ve always needed more like her, and we probably still do.







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