Friday, May 25, 2012

How to Be Maude Stokes

The following piece is a collaboration by the residents of Joslyn House (where I just finished a six-week workshop), several of whom had Mrs. Stokes as a teacher many years ago. I asked them to tell me about her, and I jotted down their memories. Then I put them together in the form of a "how to be" portrait.

How to Be Maude Stokes

Begin and end your teaching career in the village of Randolph, Vermont.
Teach third grade—and only third grade—for approximately half a century.
Teach long enough to be able to say to one third-grade boy on the first day of school, “I hope you behave better in my classroom than your father did.”
Get to know the habits of third graders better than any other teacher in the history of Randolph Elementary School.
Watch out for the boys.
When a third-grade boy misbehaves, march him to the coat closet, otherwise known as the cloakroom.
Take a ruler with you.

Adopt a certain style of dress and never change, no matter what happens to women’s fashions during your lifetime.
Wear your hair in a bun.
Pin a cameo to the (high) neckline of your nondescript blue dress.
Give the impression of being exactly what you are, a schoolteacher, not a fashion plate.
Give the impression of being large and bulky and not to be messed with.

Speak with the voice of authority.

When the children are quietly working, leave the classroom and talk in the hallway with Mrs. Simmons.
Train the children to behave themselves while you talk with Mrs. Simmons.
Begin their training in the second grade.
Make sure that the name “Maude Stokes” inspires awe and fear in every second-grader.
Especially the boys.
Establish a reputation.

Allow no child to enter fourth grade without having mastered his multiplication tables.
Believe that every child is capable of success.
When a certain third-grade girl of average intelligence refuses to learn her times-twelves, bang her head against the blackboard.
Do not actually injure her.

As a regular part of third-grade education, read aloud the interesting bits of news in the Boston Herald.
Follow in particular the Boston Trunk Murders.
When a mother complains that her daughter is having nightmares, decide to skip some of the gory details in your classroom updates on the Boston Trunk Murders.
Continue reading the headlines.

Never be seen driving a car.
Whenever a home visit is called for,
Get Mr. Stokes to drive you.
In the fall, when you go to the Annual Teachers Convention in Montpelier,
Get Mrs. Simmons or Mrs. Murray to drive you.

Look forward the Annual Teachers Convention with great excitement.

Divulge nothing about your personal life.
Keep them guessing.
Never speak of Mr. Stokes in front of the children. Make them wonder if he exists.
Make them speculate, years later, that if he existed he must have been very small.