Monday, November 1, 2010

Olive Stenson, teacher extraordinaire

Our teachers have such an impact on our lives...especially good teachers. Do you remember a teacher that helped shape you? Honor them by adding them to your life story for they surely deserve to be noted and remembered.

“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of Lord…” our chorus sang as she coaxed us to sing our parts and played the piano to fill the room with the notes that some of our young voices were growing accustomed to. She was patient and kind while filling our hearts with a love of music. We didn’t dawdle or show disrespect for the music she taught us. She demanded attention and careful enunciation of our words. I remember all the songs she taught us…the negro spirituals like “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” and Stephen Foster’s “Old Black Joe”. We sang all the songs that inspired patriotism and love for this great land of America.

Then a magical thing happened. I finally was entering sixth grade and when I arrived at school that first summer dream came true. Mrs. Olive Stenson was my 6th grade teacher! Not only did I get to have her for my Chorus teacher…I had her all day. It was going to be a good year! Some of the students weren’t happy about their lot for 6th grade but I was ecstatic. Mrs. Stenson was a very strict teacher. We were there to learn and she was there to teach us. Some were afraid of her… but not me... she had a twinkle in her eye and I loved how she talked to me like a person and not a child.

I thrived on her high expectations and she was quick to praise any and all students who put forth effort. I would often miss the bus at the end of the school day just so I could stay and clean erasers and visit with her. We visited about so many things… our country, the world, math, history, science, music. I talked about my family and she talked about her sons. One afternoon after I finished cleaning erasers she asked me if I knew what a doorstep baby was. I told her I had read many fictional stories that had babies left at doorsteps in them. She then, with a tear in her eye, quietly told me that she had been a doorstep baby. At that moment I had wanted to be a grown up and she a little one so I could scoop her up and rock her while singing a lullaby of how much she was loved. We never spoke of it again. I felt very important to have been a confidant to her about such a matter as this.

Two weeks before the end of the school year I quietly approached every student in our class and asked them to bring money so I could buy Mrs. Stenson a present from the class. Within a few days I had gathered all the money. I talked my Mom into going to Lipmans at Eastport Plaza and found a beautiful white blouse for her. There was enough money left over to buy a simple necklace to wear with the blouse. The last day of school I presented the gifts to her on behalf of the entire class, hugged her tight and told her how much we all loved her and how much we were going to miss her. Tears were shed and soon thereafter we left for home. Most never returned to Battin Elementary. I returned to visit every couple of years until her retirement.

Of all the people in my life, Mrs. Stenson was one who had a far reaching influence on me. I love music and because of her I have learned to appreciate all kinds of music. I love learning and have been a life long learner. I love teaching and have high expectations of all my students. I love America and the flag and voting. I love gray hair and have let my own hair go naturally gray. I love children and old people and everyone in between.

Olive M. Stenson was born 21 March 1905 and died 12 August 1975. She was a beautiful woman and touched the lives of many for good. She was a perfect mentor. When she smiled, the world was brighter. She found joy in music. I am better because I knew her.