Friday, October 14, 2011

“Harriet Tubman didn’t take no stuff...” –Eloise Greenfield

Mrs. Schlichting didn’t neither…

Late last month I received an email from my dad informing me that my fifth grade teacher, Marilyn Schlichting , had passed away.  The first thing that came to mind upon receiving this sad news was Eloise Greenfield’s poem “Harriet Tubman.”  While this may seem quite random to most, for those of you who were blessed to take part in Mrs. Schlicting’s fifth grade class, you will know exactly what I’m talking about.  You see, each and every week the stick thin, spunky woman would assign her students a poem to memorize.  We had five days to memorize the poem word for word, and then dreaded Friday would arrive when each of us would take turns standing up in front of the class to recite the assigned poem.  As you can imagine, after listening to 20 plus kids recite the same poem over and over again, you knew it pretty well (plus you were not allowed to sit down until you had recited it to, what she considered, the best of your ability). She assigned all sorts of poems ranging from Robert Frost’s classic “The Road Not Taken” to “La Noche Antes De Navidad” (The Night before Christmas in Spanish).  But, for whatever reason the one that stuck with me throughout the years was Harriet Tubman…  

"Harriet Tubman didn't take no stuff..."

Perhaps the reason this poem stuck with me the most is because I associate it with Mrs. Schlichting and her personality.  You see, she was a force not to be reckoned with.  The best way I know how to exemplify this is to share my favorite 5th grade story:

It was springtime and I was eleven years old in Mrs. Schlichting’s fifth grade class.  One afternoon Mrs. Schlichting announced that we were going on a walk outside and instructed us to get in a line at the door.  Curious about what seemed like a random activity (this was the first impromptu nature walk she had taken us on), but eager to have a break from school work, my classmates and I quickly lined up.  She led us out of the building to the sidewalk.  From there we took a lap around the parameter of the school until she suddenly stopped and called us to gather ‘round.  We all huddled close together wondering what the holdup was about.  She pointed down at the sidewalk to some weeds that were growing out of the cracked pavement and started teaching:  “These are sidewalk weeds and they are edible.” 

I’m sorry, come again? Did she just say what she thought she said?

She proceeded to bend down and pull out a big bunch of weeds and then led us back to the classroom.  When we arrived back in class, we were instructed to sit down at our desks while she went to the sink and washed the bundle she had harvested from the sidewalk.  As you can imagine, we were all a little nervous about where this was headed…

She’s not really going to eat that is she?

Oh no, much worse.  Not only was she going to eat the sidewalk weeds (she started munching away on the greens as if they were nothing more than some iceberg lettuce) but also threatened our recess privileges until we all tried a bite.  I wish I was kidding.  We all stared at her in disbelief.  Did she not realize how many people had walked on those weeds? Not to mention, how many dogs had likely…you fill in the blank.  Some kids protested, but Mrs. Schlitcing would have none of it. We had no choice but to pull off a branch and start chewing. 

While in the moment it was a bit traumatizing, looking back, it’s just plain funny.  On more than one occasion I have tried to figure out her motivation for the spontaneous weed lesson.  Was it to teach us nature survival skills (just in case we ever get lost in an urban jungle)?  Was it to improve our immunity or perhaps increase our appreciation for the small yet beautiful/useful things we pass by (or over) each day?  It could be any of those, but I like to think that it came down to a woman with a great sense of humor and a brilliant use of authority. 

Well played Mrs. Schlichting, well played.

"Harriet Tubman didn't take no stuff…"

Rest In Peace

No comments:

Post a Comment