I have had teachers, been a teacher, and worked with teachers, so I know that there are good ones and bad ones. My third grade teacher was one of the best. Lots of people in my home town are going to be celebrating Mrs. Marguerite Burns’ 90th birthday today. I can’t be there. I offer this in substitution. It is a copy of what I included in her birthday card.
I was in the third grade when I wrote my first story. It was entitled ”Dusty”, and it was about a fawn. I wrote it on paper from a Big Chief tablet–those tablets that had a red cover with a picture of the Indian chief’s head on the front cover. The paper was off-white, soft, and porous. Each page was torn from the top of the tablet, and care had to be taken not to tear crookedly and ruin the page. Sometimes, if the glue that held the tablet together was too thick, the paper would tear unevenly, and the remains of the top of each sheet would build up until extracting a perfect page was impossible. Constant manicuring was in order, and tearing out each sheet without disfiguring the top edge became a skill that was perfected only by complete and careful attention.
It was a simple but brilliant plan. Mrs. Burns, my third grade teacher, had each of us write something. Then she displayed them during open house as if they were all works of art. She brought in a sympathetic audience of parents who were anxious to believe that their children were geniuses–parents who were willing to lavish praise on their intellectually gifted offspring. Once we got a taste of applause for our literary labors, we were hooked. All we had to do was write down what was in our imaginations, and all the adults that mattered were completely and foolishly pleased with us. It was a magic formula that made everyone feel good.
Dear Mrs. Burns,
Thank you for being my third grade teacher. The loving welcome you gave to that little 7 1/2 year- old, dark- haired, brown-eyed girl radically transformed my world. You changed my feelings about school from dread to delight. I felt like you recognized who I really was, and that you approved of me. You looked at me as if you thought I was the best you’d ever seen. I sensed you believed I would do wonderful things, and that allowed me to believe it, too. That little girl never thanked you; she just loved you. She still loves you. Happy Birthday. You are the best ever. Love,