This is a story I wrote in preparation for a storytelling gig.  Every time I open a book, I am reminded of my 5th grade year and my amazing teacher.  Since my plan for the year is to read 52 books in 52 weeks, I thought it was only appropriate to add this story to my blog.

TRIBUTE TO MRS. ROHLFS

A True Story by Martha L. Spiva

Anyone who has ever gone to school has had one of these.  No, it’s not a school-age crush or even a best friend.  It’s not a fight with the school bully or an “A” on a report card.  It’s not even the dreaded visit to the principal’s office.  It’s a favorite teacher!  Anyone who has ever gone to school has had a favorite teacher.  This is a story of how in one moment, one teacher completely erased all the negative teachings of the years passed and gave me the self-confidence to pick up a book and explore the world between its covers.

Mrs. Rohlfs was a fifth grade teacher at Canyon Creek Elementary School in Richardson, Texas.  She was an older woman; certainly the oldest teacher I had ever had.  She was 54 years old with wrinkles on her face.  She had short brown hair, the old pointy, sixties style glasses, and she always wore pants that were made from that double polyester material that was in style back then.  The only time I saw her wear a dress was on class picture day, and I still have that picture to this day!

I met Mrs. Rohlfs when I was in the 4th grade.  My next-door neighbor, Carolyn, had her for fifth grade, and every afternoon after the school bell rang, I would take my chances and cross the hall full of stampeding children to get to Mrs. Rohlfs’ classroom.  I would wait for Carolyn outside of Mrs. Rohlfs’ door.  That is where I first met Mrs. Rohlfs.

It was rumored that Mrs. Rohlfs was mean, so you can imagine my surprise when I got to know her and found out just how nice she was.  Everyday while I waited for Carolyn, Mrs. Rohlfs would spend time talking to me.  She would ask me about my day in school, about my favorite subjects, and questions about my family.  She was very nice.  I didn’t understand why everyone thought she was mean.  Maybe it was because she was old and the glasses she wore made her look mean.  Maybe it was because she didn’t wear dresses.  I’m not sure, and I’ll never know.   But, the fact was, I liked her.  At the end of my fourth grade year, Mrs. Rohlfs told me that she hoped I would be in her class the next year. (And secretly, I did too).

Finally, after a long, hot Texas summer; the class lists were posted on the front doors of the school!  Every kid in the school waited for this day, and when it came the steps were packed with excited children.  I pushed my way through the crowd to find the 5th grade lists, and there it was!  My name was listed under Mrs. Rohlfs’ 5th grade class!  That alone was enough to make me happy, but out of curiosity, I checked the other names on the list. There were several names on that list that I could have lived without (Like Tandy Welborn and Andy Gugick who made it their job to make my life miserable), but the most important name on that list was Kathleen Noelle Herman.  She was my very best friend in 1st grade from a different school.  She had just moved to my end of town, and now she was going to be in my 5th grade class!  I knew that with Mrs. Rohlfs as my teacher and Noelle in my class that this was going to be the best year ever!

See, even though I had lived in the same neighborhood all of my life, I didn’t have very many friends.  I was insecure about being over weight, and I was slow in school.  Children are the cruelest people on earth, and they loved to use those things to pick on me.  All I really wanted out of school was to be accepted by other children and to not have to read out loud in class too often.  The children always made fun of my reading and I just hated it!  I figured with Noelle in my class, I had a friend I could count on and that she would watch out for me.  We could sit next to each other and pass notes during class.  Noelle was very very tall and pretty, so I knew that with her I would make new friends.

The first day of class was filled with energy of 25 kids’ excitement over what was to happen over the new school year.  The children who knew each other were chattering away about their summer activities, and many of them were complaining about having Mrs. Rohlfs for a teacher.  I assured Noelle that the rumors were not true, and that Mrs. Rohlfs was very nice.  I also did what a very best friend should do, and explained to Noelle who the snobs of the class were, and then we giggled as we watched the cute boys from across the room.

Soon the excitement of being in a class with my best friend was scared away, and yes I mean SCARED!  It was time to hand out the reading books.  There were three levels of reading books.  There were the advanced books for the “smart kids”, the middle range books for the “normal kids”, and then there were the lower level books for the “slower kids”.  Every year since the 1st grade, I was the only girl with a group of 3 boys in the lower reading group.  I hated to read!  I was told I was slow and learning disabled, and it was humiliating to be set aside in a small group of all boys to learn how to read.

Anyway, it was inevitable that Mrs. Rohlfs would call my name.  My hands began to sweat and my heart began to pound as I waited.  When she called my name, I dragged my feet to her desk and willed it all to go away.  I didn’t want my best friend to know that I was stupid.  I didn’t want Noelle to see that I had to read the lower level books.  When I got to Mrs. Rohlfs’ desk, I dropped down into the chair.  I’m sure my face showed my fear as I waited for a fate worse than death…the moment in which my reading book was handed to me.

The only thing worse than not being able to read the “normal kids” book is being handed a “normal kids” book by mistake and then having to explain that I could not read it.  And that is exactly what happened.  Mrs. Rohlfs handed me the “normal kids” books.  I felt mortified!  I told Mrs. Rohlfs that it was the wrong book, that I got the lower level reading book.  When she asked me why I always get the lower level reading book, I bowed my head in shame and admitted to her that I was slow and learning disabled.

She looked at me with the most caring eyes I had ever seen and asked me if Noelle Herman was my best friend.  I told her that she was.  Then she told me that she couldn’t separate best friends like that, and since Noelle was new to the school, she would need her best friend to introduce her to the other children.  She also told me that she believed in me and that I could read what was in the middle range book.

In amazement, I held the book to my heart and managed to find my way back to my seat without screaming with joy!  I was so happy to be advanced to the next level of reading.  No longer would I be in a group of all boys to read a book for “slower” readers.  I WASN’T DUM B ANYMORE!

From that day on, my whole attitude about reading and writing has changed.  In one short moment, my life had changed, and I had self-confidence.  I ran home that day to tell my mom what Mrs. Rohlfs had done.  No other teacher before Mrs. Rohlfs (or even after) has cared enough to give me such a special gift!

COPYRIGHT:  Martha L. Spiva  April 25, 2001

Do not copy or use without permission of the author.

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