OPINION

THE SIMPLE LIFE: North Star

Trish Morgan
Special to the News Tribune
no caption
Trish Morgan

For many reasons, I feel just like my granddaughter Ava at the moment. Bittersweet would be the word that comes to mind. We are both very excited in counting just the few days of school that remain, yet know that we have to say goodbye for now to her teacher - Mrs. Lisa Harris.

This time of year has so many memories for me as I remember the many teachers I had to say goodbye to at the end of the school year. I loved almost every single one of my elementary teachers - with the exception of my first grade teacher at Keyser Elementary I have written about previously. That's another whole can of worms.

My teachers in grades two through six were wonderful role models for me. Each of them looked at Patricia Cavin and saw a true desire for learning, and saw a little girl who strived to be a good student. They had to see my interest in all subjects - especially English, spelling, grammar, and reading. Do any of you remember SRA and the colored levels? Bill Nelson and I competed with each other to see who could pass on to the next level.

I remember every single one of my teachers at Westernport Elementary - Mrs. Peggy Newton (grade 2); Mrs. Pat Broome (grade 3); Mrs. Elizabeth Footen (we called her "Mrs. Fourth Grade Footen" because there was a "Mrs. First Grade Footen"). In fifth grade, I would meet my most favorite teacher of all -- Mrs. Joan Riley.

At our first meeting when we students came into her classroom, there she stood in front of her desk and blackboard - so tall! She had just the most lovely speaking voice, and such a welcoming smile. And remember, this was waaaaay back in 1968! I can still remember that first day as I looked at her name, written on the blackboard in perfect cursive - Mrs. Riley. I just knew this would be my best year yet!

I was right, too. I loved every single day of school, just like my Ava does now. Every subject: reading, spelling, history, writing, science and math. Now, that math thing would change in high school - it would soon change to the most dreadful, horrible, hated algebra. I don't know how in the world I survived THAT!!!

But, Mrs. Riley inspired me, and she was one teacher who reached this little fifth grader, and motivated me to please her with good work and good attendance. From fifth grade on (age 11 or so), I had two goals - 1) to become an elementary school teacher and 2) to become president of the PTA. Now I know the PTA goal was an odd aspiration for a child, but back then, teachers encouraged students to talk with their parents about the importance of the Parent Teacher Association. It became important to me, too.

The following school year in sixth grade, I would have two teachers because of maternity leave - Mrs. Helen Simpson Warnick and again - Mrs. Riley. Life was good for me in school, I tell ya. Great teachers, one and all.

Ava? Well, this school year is almost over, and due to COVID-19, the students have experienced mask mandates, 6-feet distancing, quarantines, virtual school, laptops, restricted school activities, physical separation from their teachers and their friends, grandparent teaching and supervision, temper tantrums and crying jags. New things never experienced; things I hope we never have to go through again.

Through it all - I have had four grandchildren with different experiences. Three of them thrived through virtual school, and successfully transitioned to being in school.

One of my grandchildren despised the virtual school and having to do lessons online. Most days, it was a struggle to even attend and finish the work. There were many absences and IPad issues, and begging and pleading to not have to remain online every day. It was awful to see, and I did all I could to encourage and support. Things were so much better when returning to school, but I feel this grandchild lost a lot of progress and social interaction. I fear this will be detrimental in the learning process for some.

This summer, there are many simple plans of activities and learning experiences organized. My grandchildren deserve a regrouping and a time to just play, relax, have fun, and be with their friends. It's work for me to structure the planning, but I want this to be a summer to remember.

The sad day will come when my grandchildren have to move on to the next grade and say farewell to their teachers. I remember the tears that came to my eyes when that time arrived. I know Ava and Ryder will miss their teachers.

I am positive that all teachers will feel a sense of relief, and even accomplishment, that they made it through this school year. They had the hardest job ever, and had to learn a whole new way of instruction in the virtual world. But, they rose to the occasion, they survived, they persevered, they accomplished what no other teacher ever had to manage. I am proud of every single teacher, and I thank them for leading, for inspiring, for setting examples of how to adjust to what life brings our way.

That teacher thing from my childhood, that goal? No, I never followed through on my dream to become a teacher. One of the biggest regrets in my life. But, I'd like to think that the teachers I loved all my life might think I ended up okay. And, that PTA president thing? Yep. Accomplished.

Mrs. Riley has passed from this life, but I will never forget how she believed in me. She pointed me in the right direction, like the north star. Her guidance meant the world to me. She instilled the love I have for all things moon and stars - and many times throughout my life, I have looked at the north star and thought of that tall, strict teacher with a heart for teaching.

Until we meet again, I hope you keep reading. God's blessings.