Some people can point to that one teacher who righted their course and set them on a path to fulfilling their ambitions. For me, choosing just one teacher is a near impossibility. I was fortunate to go through the same school system all the way from Kindergarten through graduation. The progressive Oyster River School District valued independent thinking and creativity, and, most importantly to me, emphasized writing. It is easier for me to list the poor teachers I had than to pick out one or two good ones. So, I thought about being cagey with this prompt, and writing about how it was impossible to choose, all the while dropping in the names of those who I especially admired.
There was, however, one name I kept coming back to: Mrs. Raasch. She taught a three-four classroom and I had her for both years.
Mrs. Raasch was a tough teacher. “You’re in the doghouse with me,” she’d say when someone was acting up. You did not want to be in the doghouse with Mrs. Raasch. When she thought deeply, or when she was annoyed, she would tuck her tongue below her bottom teeth and the line down the center seemed especially deep. Eight year old me feared that it would one day split in two.
Some of her methods were decidedly old school. We had to memorize the multiplication tables in those years, and she kept sheets of paper on her wall where each of us could write our names as we mastered each set. Competitive me was bound to be amongst the first to finish, a fact she realized and urged me to slow down so that I would actually keep the facts in my memory. We did the animal projects that have since fallen out of favor for being a mere regurgitation of facts. I still remember filling out the bibliography sheets.
But in other ways she was more progressive. We were given time each week to pursue individual interests. I macramed friendship bracelet after friendship bracelet. I remember boys in my class poring over baseball cards. When I expressed an interest in writing poetry, she gave me a notebook with a manilla cover that I filled with rhyming verse and haikus. It broke my heart a little when she gave other girls the same notebooks, but I imagine she was thrilled to have a spontaneous poetry collective form in her classroom.
After learning about whales and going on a whale watch -- an adventure I remember primarily as one spent hanging over the edge of the boat hoping I didn’t vomit on the whales -- our class decided to adopt a whale. We raised money selling popcorn in the hallway during snack time.
|Mrs. Raasch past her love of this book onto her students.|
Her taste in literature was decidedly old-fashioned, but her passion was contagious, whether it was Beatrix Potter or Frances Hodgson Burnett. She had the whole class riveted by her read-aloud of The Secret Garden. It wasn’t until I was in library school that I learned that some children did not like this book. As a student who had her two years in a row, I got to hear the read aloud twice, and found it no less enthralling the second time around. In fact, as fourth graders we rallied the class to build our own garden in front of the school, raising money for the plants and learning which would grow best in the northeastern climate.
Her strong opinions about literature did not cloud her ability to let us read what we wanted. I went through a lengthy Nancy Drew phase while under her care -- both the original and the Files series. I don’t recall her once leading me away from these books. She knew I would come around.
A potter, she kept a wheel in our classroom. She taught us all to use it, and, in groups, we would give up our recesses to use the wheel. Our pieces would be fired in the kiln down in the art room.
Each year at Christmas I hang an ornament she made for me as a thank you for some small favor. It is a simple heart with the word “Love” on it. It’s a common enough idea, but I think for her it summarized her approach to teaching. She loved it, and we, in turn, loved her.