Friday, May 07, 2010
  Mrs Hunholz

Making the milk-bottle cafe model reminded me, through some circuitous mental path, of my second-grade teacher Mrs Hunholz.

Google finds only two references to her, one obit-like paragraph and one mention of her "lifetime teaching achievement" award in 1977. She certainly deserved the latter. Mrs Hunholz spent her life teaching, and had an unparalleled talent.

She taught in Bluemont School, in a working-class area of Manhattan. Though Bluemont was only a few blocks from K-State, very few professors lived on that side of town. Most parents were mechanics or store clerks or Mexican migrants. (My parents didn't stay there long; this was their first year in Manhattan, and they were renting until they could save up enough to buy. The next year they moved into a higher-status area where they could keep up with the Prof Joneses.)

Mrs Hunholz knew how to deal with the wide range of behaviors and intellects that confronted her every year. She didn't need Individualized Education Plans or Diagnostic Criteria for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. (Of course those teacher-crippling devices weren't even imagined yet in 1956.)

She simply understood each kid, organized and delegated the work, and applied learning to every sense and muscle.

How do you keep the smarty-pants kids like me and Judy from getting bored and making trouble? How do you keep the behind-the-curve types like Fernando and Rayleen from getting lost and making trouble?

Mrs H knew how. She assigned the smarty-pants kids to individually tutor the behind-the-curve types. So I taught Fernando to read, Judy taught Rayleen to read, while Mrs H ran the middling types through the regular routine. It worked.

Most of all, Mrs Hunholz kept our hands and eyes and ears and noses and mouths full of learning. Lots of walking field trips to nearby businesses, various types of food always cooking at the back of the classroom. We learned how popcorn pops, how to make hominy from corn, how the bakery makes bread, how the dairy bottles milk and makes butter, how the butcher cuts meat.

She wasn't short on discipline when it was needed. Once I fell under the influence of a big fellow named Charlie, who gave me the choice of helping him bully others or taking the brunt of his bullying. Unfortunately I chose the former, helped Charlie steal crackers from a weak first-grader. Mrs H heard about it somehow, and I spent the next day standing up in the cloakroom among the wet boots and coats.

At the other end of the scale, she knew exactly when to skip organization and discipline. As a classic nerd, I've never been remotely competent at any sort of athletics. When the other boys were playing baseball at recess, I played in the dirt, building roads and houses. Mrs H made one gentle effort to get me into the team play, then apparently decided that I was learning more by building things than by throwing balls. All later teachers, from 3rd grade through 12th, forced me to participate in the ball games. This did not make me a good teammate or a good athlete; it only taught me repeatedly and miserably that nobody wanted me on their team.

You simply can't follow an act like Mrs Hunholz. The next three years of school, in the "better" part of town, presumably had teachers ... but I don't remember any of them. Grades 3,4,5, just a waste of time. It wasn't until Mr Guest in 6th grade that I encountered another real teacher.

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Here's a super-simplified memory image. Supposed to represent me, Fernando and Judy ... but of course Mrs Hunholz really had 35 kids under her wing!



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Much later thought, triggered by NPR's little salute to the 60th anniversary of Charlotte's Web. A couple times Mrs Hunholz took advantage of my adult reading ability, letting me read that book to the class while she went somewhere else. I never had any trouble with the other kids; they apparently sensed that I was approved as "replacement teacher" for a few minutes. Sudden realization: Mrs H did for me exactly what Charlotte did for Wilbur.

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