Day by Day
Early lessons live on even as memories fade
By LIZ THOMPSON
This Week News
In September 1956, I stepped into the basement of the Masonic Temple in Westerville. (Ohio) Most likely I was wearing a dress my mother made, with saddle shoes and a bow in my hair.
Here, I would begin my public education. Mrs. Sleeper was my teacher. Years later, she would see me as an adult and call me by name. She said I had not changed.
My guess is Mrs. Sleeper followed many of her students’ lives and could call us each by name, even years later.
My black-and-white photo shows four rows of tables with eight children at each table.
Mrs. Sleeper handled all of us mostly by herself. We became members of our first club here — the Bow Knot Club — when we tied our shoes by ourselves. My next club membership was the Mickey Mouse Club with a photo membership card.
Many of these same classmates would see Westerville grow from a village to a city. We would see the farmland surrounding our city disappear.
We would walk side by side at graduation at the single high school 13 years later.
I remember the names of all my elementary teachers: Whipkey, Camel, Freeman, McGlish, Sweazy, Clapham. Once we began seventh grade, we had a teacher for each subject. No more recess; the only break came in walking to each class.
Remembering all those teachers’ names now from middle and high school is based on what happened in the classroom, both positive and negative memories.
Mr. Franklin was my seventh-grade geography teacher. His thick gray hair represented knowledge to me. I loved his class for what and how he taught. Here, we had our first real homework. I don’t recall the topic for my assignment, but I used an encyclopedia to get information.
Mr. Franklin called me forward when he passed out our graded assignments. The conversation went something like this:
“Elizabeth, where did you get your information?”
“You do know you are not supposed to copy word for word, but read and tell me what you learned.”
How did he know? He must have seen my confusion.
“There is a hyphen in this word.”
I remember looking at my paper and knowing I was caught. I had copied a word that was only hyphenated because it fell at the end of the column and continued on the next line.
“That is called plagiarism, Elizabeth. Cheating. Using someone else’s words.”
He was not angry; he was teaching. I learned and never did that again.
In a small town like Westerville was in those days, sometimes the teachers or principals were neighbors or members of your church.
Recently, my church’s school at Beautiful Savior in Grove City installed a new first- and second-grade teacher. I mentioned to her that I still remember my early teacher’s names. I said the early years of school are uniquely important, setting the base for all learning.
Her enthusiasm was contagious. It gave me assurance that one day her students might remember her, much like I remember mine. That is the type of legacy we all long for.
Schools continue to teach English, mathematics, science, language, art and music. History, government and geography are called social studies. Hopefully, physical education remains a class, but sports have become a type of replacement.
Encyclopedias are not a temptation for students to copy from anymore — the internet has entered the picture. In my day, we did not have word processing or computers. We hand-wrote, in cursive, all of our work. Since cursive is no longer required, that probably sounds antiquated to today’s students.
The edge of Westerville is no longer farmland and the district has three high schools.
I no longer wear saddle shoes and most definitely have changed since 1956. But when I look in the mirror, I still wear my hair similar to when I was 5. No bow. No longer red, but white — sort of like Mr. Franklin’s was. My hope is I have passed on some wisdom I learned from my teachers.
Memories certainly are fogged with time. I choose to cling to the good ones.
Mrs. Sleeper’s 1956 Kindergarten class