July 11, 2014

FREY: Creating an environment of love in which to learn


---- — For as long as I can remember, my daughter Bernadette wanted to be an elementary school teacher.

And not just any elementary school teacher, a kindergarten teacher, because, as Bernadette has always said, “The little ones! I want to teach the little ones.”

So, it was a wonderful thing when Bernadette was recently hired by Clinton Central Elementary School as a kindergarten teacher for the 2014-2015 school year.

It didn’t take long for the conjuring to begin. One day after the Clinton Central School Board approved to hire Bernadette, she began planning the theme for her classroom.

“I want to have a woodland creature theme with stuffed animals,” she announced with a smile. “Outside my door I want all of my students’ photographs together with the title: Miss Frey’s woodland critters.”

Kindergarten teachers, amazing people, I tell you.

Aren’t they just the best?

I would venture to guess that we all remember our kindergarten teachers.

I remember mine vividly. Her name was Maxine Carey. She was a kind woman with a soft voice and an inviting smile. She played the piano, had perfectly straight posture, read books using character voices while sitting on a wooden rocking chair, and best of all, she introduced us to poetry.

One of our homework assignments in Mrs. Carey’s class was to memorize a poem about ice skating. After we memorized the poem, we were to recite the words to our parents.

I remember the poem to this day. It goes like this: “Ice skating is nice skating, but here’s some advice about ice skating. Never skate where the ice is thin, thin ice will break and you’ll fall right in, and come up with icicles under your chin if you skate where the ice is thin.”

I was amazed that one petite woman could teach all of us how to memorize something that was so long and complicated.

Although Bernadette fondly remembers her kindergarten teacher, my daughter once told me she began thinking about becoming a teacher when she was in Debbie Gossard’s third-grade class at Riley Elementary School in Frankfort.

Bernadette said that Mrs. Gossard was kind, good-humored, witty, and always had a smile on her face.

But the most important thing that Bernadette remembers about Mrs. Gossard was the classroom environment she lovingly created.

“I always felt that we were all safe in her classroom,” my daughter shared with me once upon at time. “We could all be ourselves. We were all accepted and loved.”

And then there is the enthusiasm.

I saw that enthusiasm in Mrs. Carey’s eyes and heard it in her voice 52 years ago in my kindergarten classroom.

And I see that same enthusiasm in Bernadette’s eyes and hear it in her voice now.

These kindergarten teachers, and I have known many, all seem to be cut from the same beautiful cloth.

And so, just a few days ago, my daughter was in the kitchen putting together a substitute binder with classroom instructions, who to contact in case of an emergency, and a page for the yet unseen daily schedule, and the like.

And today, off to the Dollar Tree we ventured, where all sorts of classroom bulletin board items awaited in the teacher section.

And I have just got to believe that along with images of woodland creatures and trees swirling around in Bernadette’s mind, she is also pondering how to create that classroom environment, that environment where all are safe, accepted and loved.

Alvia Lewis Frey is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at