Saturday, November 17, 2007


I once committed to posting about my 3rd grade teacher. So, Mrs. Barton, this one's for you.

Mrs. Barton was not just a super teacher. She was a Superteacher.

Now, that's not to say she was without fault--she was not. But her positives so outweighed her negatives that those minor flaws do not bear repeating. Superteachers may not be perfect, but they are still Superteachers.

I wouldn't call Mrs. Barton a warm teacher. She certainly wasn't mean at all, but she wasn't the huggy kind of teacher. She was very firm but also gentle, and we respected her. She held us to the highest standards, and she drilled us until we met them. All of us met them. And six years ago, when I visited her class--she was due to retire in a few days after 39-1/2 years' teaching--she showed me that all her students knew their multiplication tables. They showed off for me; it was play for them, as it had been for us almost 30 years before.

They all read fluidly, too--even the Salvadoran boy, who showed up in December not speaking a word of English. "I wouldn't let them put him in those bilingual classes," she told me. He read aloud as well as all the others, and spoke without a trace of an accent--after 6 months with Mrs. Barton.

Mrs. Barton always had a piano in her class. Her playing, and our singing, was sometimes used as a reward for us. She had one songbook that most of "our" songs were in. When we wanted to sing the National Anthem, though, we helpfully reminded her that it was in the other book, and we told her which page--although, looking back, I'm sure she remembered as well as we did. And she required us to stand as we sang it, too.

It was in Mrs. Barton's class that I learned that the human body has 206 bones in it. We had a report on the human body in her class. Much of it we copied from the board, but it was in her class that I learned about the skeletal system, the nervous system, the digestive system, the repiratory system, and a few others. I remember how old and mature I felt when I asked her how long it took after eating something to excrete it. Scientific and adult-sounding words were a big deal. She guessed at an answer.

She held spelling bees; I was always the last one standing. Until, that is, Joellen transferred into our school and class. All of a sudden, I was no longer the "smartest kid in the class", a title I'd always held. It was most uncomfortable for me. I don't know if Mrs. Barton knew--she probably did, she was very perceptive--but she would never say so. I remember the day Joellen misspelled caught--she spelled it with an ou instead of an au--and ran crying from the classroom. I was back at my rightful place, standing alone at the side of the room, spelling my last word correctly. All was right with the world after that.

Several years and schools later, Joellen and I ended up at the same high school. She was always in student council and came this close to getting into Harvard. Last I heard from her she was a bigwig for Chevron, that one spelling bee notwithstanding.

Mrs. Barton wore a green, furry coat. I don't know what it was made from, but it was green and furry. I'll bet it was warm, but it must have taken a very secure person to wear that color in public, even in the early 70's. I wonder if she still has it.

We did art, or arts and crafts, in Mrs. Barton's class. One project near Easter stands out in my mind because my grandmother made such a contribution. We were making Easter bunnies out of bleach bottles. We poked holes into the plastic bottles without harming ourselves or others. We cut up plastic sheets--thin, like plastic tissue paper--into squares and partially inserted them into the holes, making the rabbit's fur. We glued on ears and eyes. We decorated them with jewelry--my grandmother had donated a grocery bag full of old costume jewelry, something that seemed to impress Mrs. Barton to no end. There was plenty of jewelry for everyone, and never before or since had there been such stylish Easter bunnies. I'm sure Mrs. Barton would still agree.

When I was in 4th grade, Mrs. Barton asked Diane Jordan (I didn't know it at the time, but I had such a crush on her) and I to be reading tutors in her class. Being Superteacher, she didn't stick the lower-performing students with the tutors--no, she put us with the best readers so she could work her magic on those who needed it most. Everyone in Mrs. Barton's class--and I do mean everyone--could read and calculate by June. Write in script, too. What she did really was magic.

I remember two mistakes I made in her class--one mistake, actually, the other I'd still begrudge her if she weren't a Superteacher. One time she was drilling us on our multiplication tables, writing all the 7's from 7x1 to 7x12. I was going so fast that I made a mistake: ...42, 49, 56, 67, 70, 77... Well, of course that 67 was supposed to be 63. I knew it, and she knew I knew it. I mean, 70 wasn't 7 units from 67, and neither was 56. It's just that I was going so fast! Nope, minus 1.

Another time we took a spelling test. One of the words was flowers. It was so easy that, instead of writing (in cursive) fluidly, I made the letters boxy. Smooth curves gave way to straight line segments and angles. It was readable and clearly spelled correctly, but it was not acceptable to Mrs. Barton. Minus 1.

That I remember those mistakes so many years later is a testament to her standards and how she didn't relax them for anybody. She compelled us to meet them, and meet them we did.

She was a Superteacher. Rare as they are, every child deserves to have one.


Mrs. Bluebird said...

Awesome post!!!! Thanks for sharing Mrs. Barton with us.

Ellen K said...

I think anyone who is a teacher had a Mrs. Barton at some point. My two candidates are my first and ninth grade teachers. Mrs. Kirk had taught with my mom. She had us read and used charts to show who read the most. We learned phonics and spelling and music all in her room. The biggest day of my life is when she let me roll and cut lemons for lemonade by myself. I don't even like lemonade, but the smell reminds me of first grade. Ms. Fitzpatrick taught Latin and honors English. We read Marshall MacLuhan and wrote plays for sequels of Shakespeare. We used the Elements of Style for all written work and we excelled far beyond our peers. Ms. Fitzpatrick later on became a counselor. I still remember her black cateye glasses and her long bright red hair that was always pinned into a bun. I think that's why I teach, although i tell my kids, all of whom will probably end up in the classroom, that it is a genetic defect.

KateGladstone said...

One of my own teachers, who otherwise resembled Ms. Barton, made sure that her classroom's non-native speakers of English acquired the accent of a native speaker of standard American English. To me, this seems so far preferable to Mrs. Barton's policy favoring "no accent" instead (whatever speaking in "no accent" might sound like) that I do have to wonder why Ms. Barton favored "no accent" (whatever that means) instead of instilling a native-speaker accent. (And what *does* it sound like, anyway, to speak with no accent: neither a native speaker's accent nor anyone else's? To me, the notion sounds as creepily self-contradictory as if she had required speaking without a language.)

Fritz J. said...

Reading about Mrs. Barton takes me back to 1951 and my third grade teacher. Like Mrs. Barton, she was also a superteacher. I remember well her introduction to multiplication. There were twenty-seven kids in attendance that day, and we all walked to the front of the room and looked in an empty can. When everyone had completed that, we were asked, one at a time, what we had seen. Each of us replied nothing. The first lesson, twenty-seven times zero equals zero. She was the best teacher I ever had, although I've been blessed to have a number of very good ones. Were all teachers half as good as she was, the future of our children would be in very good hands.

Darren said...

"No accent" to us native English speakers in Northern California, but I assume you already knew that Kate....