November 1947: November is the beginning of the rainy season, the month the weather pattern shifts and brings rain-filled clouds to end the long, dry California summer. I am sitting at my desk in Mrs Bellows’ room at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School. Rain is hitting the glass on the tall windows that line the outside wall. The light outside is grey; inside the light is warm like the room. I like the rain. I like the sound of the rain; I like watching the water trace down the windows. The room feels peaceful. I like being there. I am happy, content.
Fourth grade was when I fell in love with school. I didn’t dislike school before then, but it was just part of my life. Memories of school before fourth grade are fragmented, hazy. But with fourth grade, it’s as if my mind made a developmental leap. Images are sharp, feelings distinct. And those images and feelings are good ones.
I can thank Mrs Bellows for that good experience. Mature and calm, she knew how to call forth a sense of quiet responsibility in her students, create a sense of excitement about the things we were learning. I was not in love with her like I had been with the young and pretty student teacher I had in second grade. But I liked and respected her. I did want her approval.
But Mrs Bellows wasn’t the reason I decided I wanted to be a teacher. It was the classroom itself. I loved that room with its high ceiling and bank of tall windows and pendant globe lights. I loved the oiled wood floors and the way the dark wood of the window frames and doors contrasted with the white plaster walls. I loved the horizontal band of blackboard on the interior walls, and the terrarium under the bank of windows. I loved the cloakroom behind the long front blackboard that had doors at each end.
But most of all I loved the big supply closet that was filled with stacks of colored construction paper and boxes of scissors and paints and paint brushes—thin brushes for the little squares of brilliant watercolors in their metal cases and bigger brushes for tempura paint. Jars of tempera powders that could be mixed with water sat in the empty jars on the shelves. –Was there a sink in that closet as well? I know we had a source of water in that room and a sink in which to wash brushes and paint jars, but where? I don’t remember where it was located, but I still remember the smell of the paper and tempura paints, the smell of old wood, the smell of school, a smell I liked.
I was a supply room monitor in charge of getting out the supplies we needed for class projects and lessons. I had time to really look at the closet and what it contained. I wanted those stacks of paper, all those paints and brushes. I decided that when I grew up I would be a teacher, a fourth grade teacher with a classroom just like the one Mrs Bellows had.
But it wasn’t just the supply closet. I loved learning about bugs and butterflies. I loved reading about other countries in the Weekly Reader. I even liked spelling and arithmetic. All of this was content for my curiosity and developing brain—watching pollywogs grow feet in the aquarium on the shelf below the windows, observing caterpillars eat leaves, spin cocoons then emerge as large moths with small wings that they pumped into large, fragile wings.
My mother was part of all this learning, part of my school world. Mom was my Room Mother that year, Secretary of the PTA. I loved it when she came into my room, felt special, proud that Mrs Bellows knew my mother, that the other students thought she was pretty and nice. People liked my mom. I could feel it. Her presence increased my happiness.
School awakened me to the world outside my family and neighborhood, provided resources and content that was not available at home. And it provided me with new role models, the teachers I respected and admired. I didn’t just want to have my own school room and supply closet. I wanted to be like those women I admired so much. I wanted to live in their world.