Our Miss Terry At Ashburton Elementary, one teacher is in a class by herself. Just ask her students.

October 19, 1998|By Lisa Pollak | Lisa Pollak,Sun Staff

Thirty-four students were in Ms. Terry's first-grade class at Ashburton Elementary School. There was Kara and Ayana and Bryan and Jasmine and Shadriea and Megan and Kellen and -- well, and many more. The school year was 1995-1996, and it ended with a wonderful surprise: Ms. Terry, their beloved teacher, would be their second-grade teacher, too.

Kara, for one, dared to wonder: Maybe Miss Terry will be our teacher EVERY year. Until COLLEGE.

Alas, that was not to be. Though teaching those children for two years was one of the most thrilling things she'd ever done -- and though watching them leave her nest was anything but easy -- Ms. Terry was a first-grade teacher at heart. The next year, she greeted a new crop of first-graders, and Kara and Ayana and Bryan and the rest went to third grade without her.

"She said it was time to fly," said Jasmine. "To be strong and press on."

But who could blame them if, from time to time, they thought about the other kids in Ms. Terry's classroom? Other kids writing stories about Teddy, Ms. Terry's class bunny. Other kids learning sign language and Kiswahili. Other kids holding hands in the unity circle, repeating their teacher's words of love and encouragement. I am a special person ... I can do great things ... I shall do great things.

Other kids writing page after page in their construction paper-covered journals. Other kids reading aloud from their stories in the Authors Square. Other kids watching the toads gobble up crickets; learning that ujima meant working together in Kiswahili; composing stories on computers; recording book titles in reading logs. Other kids learning that when Ms. Terry says "Give yourself praise," it means you make the sign language symbol for clapping: palms facing out, hands shimmying with joy.

In Ms. Terry's class, it seemed, there were always lots of reasons to give yourself praise.

Is it any wonder that, from time to time, Kara and her friends would shake their heads at those other kids? "Miss Terry is OUR teacher -- they took OUR teacher!"

But Kara and her friends also knew there were things Ms. Terry had given them that no one could take away. They knew it when they wrote poems in Ms. Terry's afterschool writing and tTC publishing program. They knew it when they read over the journals recording years of their feelings and thoughts.

Bryan: "When I first came to first grade I cried because I didn't know how to write. Then I started. First it was a little. Then it was mounds and mounds and mounds and mounds. "

Jasmine: "If you wrote, 'I went to my cousin's house,' she'd ask: 'Where does your cousin live? What's your cousin's name?' She persuaded us to write more. She encouraged us."

Megan: "In second grade we learned third-grade stuff. Multiplication and division."

Ayana: "She taught us how to read by sounding words out. Like 'vanishing.' And one time in second grade I wrote an 11-page story with pictures. It was called 'The Cat that Roared.' "

Kara: "I learned cursive. I learned the word 'surprise.' I started to love to write more. Miss Terry used to teach us how to use our imagination I had a friend who was in one of the other classes and I told her I'm learning multiplication and subtraction with four digits in the first grade, and she said 'We're not learning that.' "

Of course, the people that give out national teaching awards don't usually interview little children -- or little people, as Ms. Terry calls them. But the people who give out the National Educator Award, sponsored by the Milken Family Foundation, do know how to get children's attention. A few weeks ago, during a special assembly, a lady wheeled a big board onto the stage at Ashburton. She started writing numbers on it, asking the kids to guess how much one remarkable teacher was going to win that day.

Two dollars? No. Twenty-five dollars? No. Two hundred and fifty dollars? No. Two thousand and five hundred dollars? No.

Twenty-five thousand dollars?

"Please be Miss Terry," thought Ayana.

"Dear God," thought Jasmine. "Please let it be Miss Terry."

When the winner's name -- Stephanie Terry -- was announced, Kara and Megan grabbed each other's arms and started jumping up and down, shrieking. Jasmine was shaking: "Yes! Yes!" Ayana saw a tear on Ms. Terry's face.

"We won," thought Bryan. "We won. We won. Oh, my God, we won!"

"We kind of knew she's the best teacher in the school," said Kara Anthony. "And we've been saying we're the stars, because she was OUR teacher."

All through the crowd, hands shimmied with joy, praise for the teacher, praise for themselves.

Pub Date: 10/19/98

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