In Praise of Teachers

Years ago, when daffodils first made their appearance each Spring in Columbia, South Carolina, my mother would help my sister and me gather the nicest ones from our yard.

We didn’t keep them.

We gave them away – to our teachers.

Teachers were special. That was the message we heard in big ways and small, and throughout the year. In the books we read, teachers were often heroines. From Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series to the story of Helen Keller, teachers were portrayed as individuals who were to be greatly admired.

I don’t remember buying gifts for our teachers, though perhaps we did. But those daffodils stick in my mind. After selecting the best – only the best – of these cheerful flowers, Mom showed us how to wrap each cut stem in a soaking wet paper towel, which was then ever-so-gently encased in tinfoil. Then we made a grouping and tied it together with a bow. In case water found a way to leak around the tin foil, the flowers – except for the petals – were wrapped in a bread wrapper, which was in turn placed into a paper lunch sack.

Admittedly, this was not the most attractive presentation in the world, but it worked. By the time my sister and I hop-scotched our way to the school bus stop, rode the bus with awful little boys intent on squishing our precious flowers, and traversed the busy hallways of Forest Lake Elementary School, the daffodils still looked as if they had just been cut. A triumph!

I remember proudly marching into my first grade classroom and presenting mine to my teacher, Mrs. Emma Long. There is no other word for it: She beamed. She even clapped her hands together and made a happy shriek. And, she praised the great care that went into preparing the flowers for the journey.

After removing the wrappings, she placed them on her desk in a vase she filled with water from the drinking fountain in the hall.

To this day, I can’t look at a daffodil without thinking of Mrs. Long.

Do you have a favorite teacher from your childhood? What presents did you bring to her?

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