Education column: Columnist shares memories of favorite teacher

Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy

By Cindy Kleyn-Kennedy

Last Saturday’s Clovis News Journal featured interviews with a number of our locals about teachers who had had an impact upon them. I can’t let an opportunity pass to offer up my own favorite teacher.

Mine was Mrs. Vera Armstrong, my 6th grade teacher at Sandia Elementary right here in Clovis.

Mrs. Armstrong, a veteran teacher by the time I arrived in her classroom, was clearly in command of her domain and, frankly, quite intimidating. I don’t remember a lot of humor, but our classroom was a happy place, and I do remember that I would do just about anything to please her.

Thinking back, I believe she had uncompromising standards, and she’d settle for no less than the very best each of us had to offer. I can’t remember if she ever actually uttered the words, but, somehow, we all knew with certainty that we were a special class and her very favorite. Reflecting now, I suspect every class she taught felt the same way.

I vividly remember her classroom, the names of the other students and even where each one sat. I clearly remember the events of that year spent in Mrs. Armstrong’s class.

We loved every subject: we traveled the world through geography; we loved to race each other in our sentence diagramming contests on the chalkboard; and math made sense to me for the first time.

I remember a couple of students who always struggled, but I also remember how protective we were of them and how sometimes we’d take turns at recess staying in and helping them. That’s in no way boasting of altruistic motives; Mrs. Armstrong simply inspired us: we were a team, and, together, we knew no limits.

Years later, when I graduated from Clovis High School, I received a warm, personal congratulatory note from Mrs. Armstrong that touched me deeply. I know my fellow, former sixth-grade students, with whom I was still in touch, also received a personal note.

Somehow, I suspect there were quite a few other recipients over the years. Funny … the quantity that Mrs. Armstrong probably sent in no way diminished the gesture; it only made her that much more special. The note, by the way, resides in my strongbox along with all my other important papers.

Many years later, when my own daughter was well on her way to maturing, my Aunt Letha happened upon an estate sale at the home of the Armstrongs.

Mrs. Armstrong had never had children of her own. My aunt described to me the endless collections she saw of newspaper clippings and countless bits of memorabilia that contained mention of her students throughout the years.

My aunt bought a simple candy dish for me at that sale, as a keepsake, since she knew Mrs. Armstrong had been my teacher. Since that time, that little dish retains a place of honor, not only in my home, but also in my heart.

William Butler Yeats said, “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.”

My Mrs. Armstrong was, most assuredly, a “fire-starter.”