Everyday [Super] Hero

If I make a promise and decide not to keep it (even if I think it’s a for a good reason), I feel icky. So I feel icky this morning because I promised you two memoir reviews this week, and you’re only going to get one–on Thursday.

But I do have a good reason (you knew that was coming!), and that is because I hit you with two really negative posts last week, and I hate ending the story that way.

What I like to remember is that after negative events start to commandeer my life, all it takes is one good person to turn it around. An everyday hero.

After my negative experiences in the last part of 3rd grade, with the teacher bully and the bus bullies, I was matriculated into Mr. Polonowski’s 4th grade classroom.

He was Miss Slack’s opposite. A phenomenal teacher.

Mr. P, as we called him, was a tall lanky young man with a brush cut (crew cut) haircut and glasses. Before 4th grade, I didn’t realize teachers could be men.

Mr. P’s classroom was ruled by respect, meaning he respected us. So we, of course, respected him.

It was my best year of school . . . ever.

Here are some of the many high points of Mr. P’s class:

  • He set up a long table in the front of the fully windowed wall with Michigan’s natural and cultural treasures: fossils, Petoskey stones, arrow heads, copper, and rock salt. Unlike show and tell, the goodies stayed up for a long time and we were free to handle and examine when our assignment was done. I particularly enjoyed sampling the rock salt ;).
  • We used SRA* reading materials, so I was allowed to read as much and as fast as I wanted, plowing through all the beautiful colors and then back up through them again.
  • Mr. P didn’t require boxes around answers during arithmetic. He never put a kid on the spot. He helped us learn division, to feel pride, and not to dislike math.
  • Mr. P read to us every day. He read from The Oregon Trail and Pippi Longstocking. The way he read them with his deep expressive voice, they were two of the most exciting books I’d ever “read.”
  • We watched science documentaries and got very engaged in our discussions afterward. I still remember those films and how relaxed our classroom felt–how free we were to explore new ideas and information.
  • During lunch, we were allowed to rehearse plays. A friend and I wrote the plays, usually based on fairy tales, and we coerced a few classmates into performing them. I’d started directing plays when I lived in my old neighborhood and still loved it. I think Mr. P also knew that I was a little hyperactive and needed an extra activity.

Sometimes I wonder if Mr. P, everyday hero, stayed in teaching or ended up leaving for business or law or another career. For the sake of the children, I hope he stuck with it.

Mr P


* SRA reading lab was a supply of color-coded reading material. We were assigned a level to begin at and we would read articles and respond to questions within that color level. When we mastered it, we would move up to the next color. When we reached the highest level, we could start back at the bottom of the box and keep reading. It functioned a bit like the Montessori method in that an entire class could be at all different reading levels–nobody would be dragged ahead until she mastered her level and nobody would be held back when she could move forward. Although eventually the color and design were changed, when we used SRA, there were many colors so it was a system that was both tangible and aesthetically pleasing.

Did you have an everyday hero when you were a child?


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing

88 responses to “Everyday [Super] Hero

  1. It’s interesting that wonderfully positive experiences followed horribly negative ones. Without suffering through the bad, would we recognize and truly appreciate the good – and gain some lessons?

    Thank you for your thought-provoking posts. -C.D.

    • Luanne

      Carole, it’s true that I appreciated Mr P and his classroom so much more because of what I had gone through the spring before. He gave us leadership and resources, but he pointed the way for us to “run” with and toward knowledge all on our own.

  2. It’s truly amazing how much of an affect a good teacher can have in a child’s life. I still remember my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Amadei, who helped me transition to a new school and built me up to be confident. Teachers can really impact your growth!

  3. Ellen Morris Prewitt

    I so understand the desire to end on an up note, and thank you: I am now quite fond of Mr. P. (and I loved the SRA reading lab too). My childhood hero: the woman who noticed the lost child with the empty Easter egg basket, overwhelmed by the “Go!” pace of the hunt, and lifted the rope into the toddlers’ area so the little girl could have a few eggs in her basket. A two minute moment in all of my childhood, and it still bubbles up.

    • Luanne

      What a wonderful lady! Look how easy it is to make a lasting impression on a child! SRA rocked! I still vividly remember the reading about Pompeii. I kept reading it over and over!

  4. We need more teachers like Mr. P. I’m so happy you had a good 4th grade experience, Luanne. After what you endured the previous year, you deserved it!
    My everyday hero had to have been my college advisor. He rescued me from my browbeating Spanish professor.

  5. Mine super-duper was Mr. C, fifth grade. We still remain in contact with one another! Some teachers have that special impact, don’t they?

    • Luanne

      Really?! That is so cool! I love that you are still in contact with Mr. C. Don’t lost that contact! Does social media help with that?

      • No–on my last visit I showed him my blog, but I don’t know if he reads posts or redponds. Maybe he does and is under a different name! We mainly stay in touch with old-fashioned Christmas notes/letters.

  6. Mr. P. seems to have been a blessing. I am so glad that you had such an exemplary teacher after having to face such an incredibly evil teacher. If Mr. P didn’t lose his joy in teaching he hopefully stayed.

    • Luanne

      Of course, I hope that he did what made him happy, but for the sake of the kids, I hope it was to keep on teaching! It seems to me that I read somewhere a long time ago about men getting out of the service and taking teaching jobs and then finding other careers eventually. That’s what has made me wonder if he was one of those men.

  7. Oooh I remember SRA reading materials! Thank you for reminding me of them!

    • Luanne

      They were so fabulous! There is something about taking charge of your own education that is very freeing and positive for a child. And the colors were pretty ;).

  8. Loved it! What a great guy! Did I have an every-day hero? Mrs. Everett in 6th grade. She let me fill the chalk board with the seven wonders of the ancient world and left them up for months. She let me write, direct, and act in a play called “Grant’s First Lady” (!?). and told my parents they should support my artistic talent.

    • Luanne

      WJ, I’m so very glad you had Mrs. Everett. What a wonderful and discerning lady. How did your parents respond to what she told them about your talent?
      Isn’t that interesting that we both liked to write, direct, and act . . . .

      • My parents sent me to Monroe Arts and Crafts to do art (13). They also sent me to summer art classes at a high school (14), U of M (15), and the National Music Camp (16). I have not gone in that direction as an adult, but I do believe that my art, music, theater, and dance training has benefited the writer in me.

  9. A hero? Sister Marie Joseph at the French school in New Bedord, MA. I was only there a few months when I was four. We lived in MI, and my mom had taken my youngest brother and me because we weren’t in school yet and she (a nurse) had to care for her 35-year-old sister who was dying. Nobody knew what to do with me, so I was allowed to attend school there as a form of daycare. Sister MJ took a shine to me (felt sorry for me?), and made things very tolerable with Oreo cookies. She made me feel incredibly special by remembering me at Christmas and on each birthday (with many a Holy Card!) for more than 10 years. In later years I wondered, with an appreciative smile, how long her make-them-feel-special list was! Thanks for the push down memory lane!

    • Luanne

      Shel, what a lovely story! What a wonderful person Sister MJ was! My goodness. How special to be one of “her” children. Thanks so much for sharing her kindness here.

  10. This made me smile. I love great teachers! They have the opportunity to make sure a difference in people’s lives.

    • Luanne

      Faith, absolutely! Sometimes it seems as if the ones who don’t know their power are the truly great ones, whereas the ones who realize the power of their position manage to screw it up!

  11. Mr. P. does deserve a hero’s award! I like his table with natural resources and then the SRA reading I remember oh so well! This was a better class and I am so glad you found a hero in the midst of the terrible move to the horrible class, before! Smiles, Robin

    • Luanne

      Thanks so much, Robin! Did you like SRA? I always wonder if other kids liked it. Yay for heroes like Mr. P!!

      • I liked reading but both my brothers hated SRA! I was in ‘speed reading’ in kindergarten (I sat with a machine that ran words like a ‘ticker tape’ quickly across my eyes and had to answer questions to the reading.) So, I breezed through this sort of stuff. I did not find it as boring as the brothers did! I loved autobiographies and biographies, too. In our Sandusky Public Library, I read the whole shelf of them, moved on to a variety of other choices, once done. I think that my favorite elementary teacher was the one I had to leave in the middle of the year, Miss Robinson. My two favorites in high school were Mr. Donaldson and Mr. Billman. They would not mind if I recognized them with their names. But, alas, Mr. D. (Spanish teacher) has passed on… I am so glad you had Mr. P!

        • Luanne

          I loved bios, too! There was a couple of different series of bios and historical event books that I loved. But my favorite was “To Dance, To Dream,” bios of the major ballerinas. I figured there were kids who didn’t like SRA. That’s a shame. It’s also a shame that there isn’t the perfect method of teaching for all children. So glad you had Miss R, Mr. D, and Mr. B!!! xo

  12. Hooray for Mr. P. I like your description of his “relaxed” classroom. Yes, it is so true that we can learn best in that state. And thanks too for the reminder of the SRA reading series. I loved that too!

    • Luanne

      Patti, so glad to hear that you too enjoyed SRA! That sort of classroom was ideal for me. I suspect it was for most kids as there wasn’t a discipline problem in there at all.

  13. It was early 1960’s when my mum, brother, sister and I joined my father, who had fled communism in 1956, in Australia. I was barely 13 and not a word of English. I was placed into grade 6, it was a private Catholic school and I was overwhelmed not being able to speak or understand anything that was going on for quite a few months. There was Sister Annunciata – what a great teacher – she used to ask me to write short stories in my native Croatian so she could find out how I think and we used to translate my stories into English using a dictionary, which was a difficult task as she had no idea of Croatia and I of English…within months I started writing in English – of course grammatically very poor but her guidance was superb. The concept of teaching English as a second language wasn’t around in those days, you had to “sink or swim” 🙂 She is my childhood hero, bless her soul for understanding the fragility of my endurance at times of almost daily “failures” and made my “failures” seem so normal and temporary. 😀

    • Luanne

      Ina, I’m fascinated by your story! What a wonderful teacher Sister Annunciata was! Look at the individual attention she gave you–even though it gave herself a lot of extra work–and look at the foundation she gave you in English to go on and become a writer and communicator (which is clear from your amazing website).

  14. Hi Luanne-
    I learned a long time ago to be careful of the promises I make. Don’t feel icky about it. Sometimes we tend to over-evaluate our time. I do it all the time. 🙂
    No boxes around arithmetic answers. Cool. Mr. P. sounds like the kind of teacher who loved what he was doing. Every child should be so lucky to have such an inspiring teacher. Mine came in grade 10. Mr. Murphy who taught Physics. He would hang out with us in the yard at recess. He always had a smile on his face and told a lot of jokes. I got to love physics because of him. :

    • Luanne

      Thanks for letting me off the hook, Carol! I always think I have more time than I do. Then I’m always shocked. Hah. I love the rare chill science teachers! He sounds wonderful! I so wanted to love science and was forever getting the wrong teachers!

  15. Luanne, your post on the teacher bully and now this one show so well how important teachers are in children’s lives. I know that many of my teachers were more of an influence (good and bad) on me than members of my own family. I hope too that Mr. P kept teaching. For some people, teaching is truly a calling. My youngest nephew is a history teacher for middle school in South Carolina. He decided on a teaching career way back when he was in high school (he’s now in his mid-30s). No one knew where his interest came from (no teachers in the immediate family, very little college as well), but he was supported and encouraged and I know he’s never looked back. Having a teacher who loves what he does and who treats his students with respect is one of the most important and positive influences in a child’s life.
    I’m really glad you had that experience with Mr. P 🙂

  16. One of my favourite teachers ever was Mister Brice, in Grade 8. We had SO much fun in that class. Every morning he would bring in some sort of writing prompt — a poem, a song, a picture — and we would spend fifteen minutes writing about it, and then forty-five minutes sharing. He also let us do all sorts of crazy stuff. I can’t remember who had the initial idea, but a group of us asked him if we could run a short story contest in the school, and he basically let us have an hour off each day to work on the project. He was one of the reasons I ended up trying out teaching in South Korea for a year. Of course, after that year I realized I didn’t much like teaching — but he still inspired me to try it out 🙂

    • Luanne

      Michelle, I want to take Mr. Brice’s class!!! That sounds like so much fun–so mentally and emotionally stimulating and a way to really throw yourself into school, especially first thing in the morning! Thanks for sharing a great story about a fabulous teacher!

  17. Very nice post. As an adult I’m awed by the memories of teachers through the years who coaxed, encouraged, and helped students. Underpaid, overworked, underappreciated, they really are unsung heroes.

  18. Pingback: When You Were a Kid, Who Was Your Hero? | Luanne Castle's Writer Site

  19. Oh, I hope he stayed in teaching as well! I wonder if other adults are remembering him the same way. So compelling.

    • He was just what I needed after the rigors and terrors of Miss Slack. He gave me myself and he gave me confidence. I’ve tried to look him up but no luck.

  20. I remember once that we had a discussion about SRA. I liked it, too–because I always loved to read.
    He sounds like a great teacher!

  21. I loved SRA! I was exposed to it in 2nd grade, in the classroom of my favorite elementary school teacher, Mrs. Kelly. Back in the 70s (when I was in elementary school), there was a public television show called “Ride the Reading Rocket” (I was a devoted fan), and Mr. Kelly had built a reading rocket out of sheet metal for his wife’s classroom. It was amazing!
    Early in the year, Mrs. Kelly discovered that I was erasing other students’ names from worksheets they turned in and writing my own. Instead of calling my parents, she talked with me and found that I was bored to tears in those subject areas. She made a deal with me: if I did my own work, as soon as I turned in my work I could go sit in the rocket and read for the rest of that subject time, no matter what the rest of the class was doing. (I believe she did tell my parents about this arrangement.)
    I read my way through the entire SRA box, all the books in the classroom, and pretty much all the books in the school library. It was the best year of my life.
    Thanks for taking me back there with your post about Mr. P and SRA. 🙂

    • Jennifer, that story is heartwarming and is another example of much difference a great teacher can be. It’s not about following all the rules. It’s making room for the kids who don’t fit the “norm.” So happy you had such a teacher. My 2nd grade teacher was a curmudgeon.

      • Things deteriorated sadly after 2nd grade: I was kept in during recess for pretty much all of 3rd grade because my cursive handwriting was unacceptable; I got mono in 4th grade and was actually paddled for failing to keep up with daily math homework (100 long division problems every night – they believed practice made perfect); 5th and 6th weren’t so terrible because there was greater emphasis on social studies, language, and science, all of which I excelled at. One saving grace in the nightmare of 4th grade was the long-term sub who came in when our teacher left on maternity leave: she had us put our heads down on our desks with the lights out every afternoon while she read Baum’s Tiktok of Oz aloud to us. It was heavenly! Once again, a teacher made all the difference. 🙂

  22. I liked your story, Luanne, and can’t imagine why it was on the low end of your stats. Thank goodness for teachers like Mr. P

  23. My first male teacher’s were in 4th and 5th grades: Mr. Wolfgang and Mr. Wagner. They loved to joke around with each other and made school a lot more fun. I don’t recall having any bad teachers in grade school. Never heard of SRA. I have always read voraciously and widely.

    • They sound like cool teachers! You were so lucky not to have bad teachers. I had 2 teachers in 3rd grade because we moved. The first was good, and the second was horrific. I wrote about her. But I also had bad teachers in second, fifth, and sixth grade. The one in fifth was also a good teacher but she was so crazy that that’s all any of us could talk about. SRA were stories arranged by reading level (colors) in all subjects. Kind of like magazine articles. The idea was that you would move up through the colors.

  24. Mr. P sounds like a wonderful teacher. I have fond memories of many of my teachers, but my favourite was Mr. C who encouraged me to write fiction. 🙂

  25. Mr. P was what every teacher should have been and continues to be today. Educators must educate which in my mind includes stirring the imagination of children. Much, much more.
    Good for you for having had such a wonderful hero.

    • He was a rockstar of a teacher. That’s exactly what he did. He set our imaginations going. I remember so much about the class. Thinking about how I learned so much about Egypt and the space race and my memory goes running on hahaha.

  26. What a wonderful teacher! I would have loved being in his class. (I tore through those SRA reading materials as well.) My hero was my dad. He helped people, he read to me, and he told funny stories.

  27. Amy

    I didn’t know about this blog in 2014, or I am sure I would have read this. It sounds like a Storyworthy story. In fact, the story I wrote last week was about my favorite teacher, my 9th grade social studies teacher.

    And I remember SRA! I loved it also. But I know for other kids, it was torture. It was so competitive, and for someone who was not a natural reader, reading those paragraphs and answering questions was not fun and only embarrassing.

    • I can’t believe you just wrote that because above I just had written that I wish they hadn’t dropped SRA but immediately recognized I might not have felt that way if I had trouble reading! I don’t remember feeling competition with others about it though because it was so self-paced. Mr P just started me up near the top in what I think was silver? Then I went down and moved up. We never compared colors or answers or anything. We did them another year, too, but I can’t remember the class. Probably one of my horror teachers whose classes I choose to forget. Storyworth yay!!!!

      • Amy

        My husband HATED SRA because he was/is a slow reader and always felt he was falling behind his classmates, making him feel stupid. And I do remember kids comparing what color they were up to, and I know I raced through wanting to get to the top because then we could read what we wanted instead of those insipid and boring stories! I know my daughters also would have hated it.

  28. I did. It was my Aunt Sue. I wrote an essay about it for a freshman year English project. Then I got all jaded and decided that no one was really a hero. I probably hurt my aunt’s feelings with that, but it wasn’t about her, per se, it was just the realization that everyone has flaws.

  29. I’m sooooo glad I came over here and read this. So many teachers ARE superheroes. It’s just sad that unreasonable parents and incorrigible kids burn so many of them out!
    As a teacher, I was forced to use SRA. I hated it and so did the kids. Eventually, we tried homemade “Learning Centers” (boxes with files of activities on large index cards, workbooks, etc), and I used a SRA box for those few sixth graders who still liked them.
    Learning Centers made individualizing work and activities so easy, and it gave students some choice in what they had to do.

  30. This is SO belated, sorry! He sounds like a fantastic teacher – I can see why you were so taken by him. I’m just wondering about the SRA colour-coded system – wouldn’t it become very competitive? And wouldn’t it be humiliating, for a ‘slow’ reader’s colour showing for all to see? (or – were the colours invisible to others? Hope so!) I wonder if this system is still used now, and where. Any idea?

    I think it’s lovely that he read aloud to you kiddies. Nothing like it, to stimulate a love of books. My mom read stories from Winnie-the-Pooh books to us every night, when I was 3, 4, 5… And she did it dramatically too, with different voices for different characters! Cherished memories.

  31. Ah, the world of SRA! 😀 Fond memories.
    Mr P sounds marvelous!
    I’m thinking back and when I was in elementary school, I remember my hero(ine) as my mother. I also remember my next door neighbor, whose daughter was a few years younger than me. She took a sincere interest in me and gave me a lot of guidance.

  32. What a great memory, Luanne! We don’t have much flexibility anymore in teaching because our governor and legislative body wants to control everything, even if it stifles authentic learning. :'( I’m happy you were able to have such a wonderful experience in Mr. P’s class. I, too, hope he stayed in teaching.

    Yvette M Calleiro 🙂

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