This is Miss Seidel, my first grade teacher. We meet for lunch once or twice a year about halfway between where we both live. Yesterday was one of those moments we live for as teachers, when a student returns to say thank you, only I was on the student end. I was able to give her a copy of True North inscribed to “Miss Seidel, my forever teacher.” Now, Miss Seidel eventually did marry a great man named Wayne and changed her name to Ms. Seidel- Slango, but for those of us who had her at Reeds Ferry Elementary School in the early ’80s, she remains Miss Seidel. I’ve never been able to call her Kathy, and I have no idea how old she actually is. When I sat in her first grade classroom, she told us she was 19, and, of course, at 6 years old, we believed her. She had to have remained 19 right through the ’90s at least. She looks great in this picture and retired five years ago, not really ready to give up her 30 plus career as a teacher, but ready to be done with No Child Left Behind and a world of too much testing.
Miss Seidel is an incredible teacher. She understood me and met my neediness head on. People in my current life would find it hard to believe that I was a stress ball in elementary school (or maybe this does not shock you one bit), albeit a pretty normal kid on most levels. But I cried if I colored outside the lines, something my children have not inherited- thank goodness- although Carver could stand with a bit more effort in the coloring department. I cried if the schedule changed, and I felt unprepared. I did not like when other kids did not do what they were supposed to do. I erased my mother’s name on a reading log when I believed her signature was too messy, and Ms. Seidel would be disappointed, and then I cried because I got into trouble for forging “Polly Ehrman” and was devastated to think she thought I didn’t do my work.
But Miss Seidel understood how hard transitions were, and she had the best soft voice ever when speaking to her class of sometimes rambunctious kiddos. However, she never raised her voice above a proper speaking tone. I did not like yelling teachers either, so this relationship worked. I loved reading with her and doing “chismbop” math (not sure I spelled that right, Ms. Seidel) and learning sign language and celebrating inventors and people from history. She made school interesting, and she compelled me to love being there. Not only did she help me transition from first grade to second grade, but she checked in on me every grade thereafter. She attended both graduations from high school and Connecticut College, my wedding, and I’m pretty sure some of those same functions for my brother. Even now, she spends the better part of her retirement meeting up with former students like me for lunch or coffee just checking in and following up on the people we have grown into. We covered her travel adventures most recently to Iceland and some great former student stories and my family and ideas for my next book.
Naturally, when I had finished a draft of True North, I knew she would handle the job of primary editor very seriously. She returned the draft to me with a black and white composition book filled– I mean filled– with constructive criticism, suggestions, and reasons for aforementioned suggestions. My novel still has errors in it, and this makes us both crazy. She has high expectations even now, even now that she is retired– she wonders why people don’t ask good questions any more and why they spend so much time on cell phones. I’m sure she differentiated instruction and we never even knew it was happening. She must have communicated with our parents and understood what competencies we had mastered, which were still in progress, and which ones would take us years to become proficient in. My mom remembers none of this; she just knew that I liked learning with Ms. Seidel, and this set me up for a lifetime of wanting to be in school. And here I am, all these years later, still in school, and I still like one on one time with Ms. Seidel, even at a Pizzeria Uno in Tilton, NH. She still has so much left to teach…Thank you, Miss Seidel, for your years of service, and for all of the kids whose lives you’ve influenced over the years. Once a teacher, always a teacher.