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My Kindergarten Teacher, My Hero

Ron Coniglio


My Kindergarten Teacher, My HeroThroughout our entire career as students, we encounter a tremendous amount of teachers. Each one impacts our educational career in some way or another.  

Every once in a while one of those teacher leaves a lasting impression. For me, that was my very first teacher: Mrs. Mathers. 

Mrs. Mathers' Magic

I can still remember my kindergarten days. I was in the afternoon class.  Before my mom would walk me out each day, she would run a comb through my curly hair trying to get rid of the knots. She’d check my elbows for dirt and sometimes would take me back in the house to scrub them squeaky clean. Finally she would dab a handkerchief and wipe off any spots on my face and trundle me off to school.

I would then walk up the sidewalk to the streetlight, push the button, cross South Street and proceed the block and a half to Prescott Elementary and room 109, Mrs. Mather’s kindergarten room. Now Mrs. Mather was young, tall, blonde and beautiful and I was in love. I would have done anything for Mrs. Mather. Her classroom was always full of exploration, learning and fun.

I loved kindergarten. We learned letters and colors. We strung beads and once each day we would sit on the rug in the reading corner and Mrs. Mather would sit in her rocking chair and read to us. We even had the nap. Around 1:30 PM each afternoon the lunch ladies would bring in a tray of milk cartons and we would slug down that half cup of milk before laying down for a ten minute nap. Most of us spent our time looking around to see who had their eyes open or we’d try to tie each other’s shoe laces together rather than actually sleep. 

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My Kindergarten Teacher, My HeroThe thing I loved most about kindergarten was birthday celebrations. In Room 109, birthdays were a very special celebration. On your birthday you were allowed to sit in Mrs. Mather’s rocking chair. This was the only time that children were allowed to sit there. Then, she would place a birthday crown on your head. She made these crowns herself and they had your name and Happy Birthday written on them. They were always golden and had spangles and faux gems on them.

My birthday is November 22nd. When that day came I was very excited. My mom dressed me in a little three button shirt with the buttons all done up to the top. It was the fashion look you would see on those class pictures they use to take of us in elementary school.

Mom was also baking me a football shaped birthday cake. My Grandmother, Nana, was making a trip to town for dinner. My brother had loaned me a cool car of his to take for Show and Tell. Life was good.

The morning was going great. We had had Show and Tell, we had our nap, and soon I would get to celebrate as the birthday boy!

But, around 1:30 in the afternoon, our principal appeared at the door and motioned to Mrs. Mather. When she got to the door he bent down and began whispering in her ear. Mrs. Mather slowly teared up then began to sob. School was canceled and we were all sent home. It was Friday, November 22, 1963 and John Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.

We went home for the weekend as the nation mourned. Monday we headed back to school and the images of the funeral that Wednesday are still in my memory; the riderless black horse, the caisson carrying the President and young John Kennedy saluting as his father’s casket passed by. There was no birthday crown or singing while in the rocking chair for me.

The year continued and we all had a great time. Upon the end of the year, Mrs. Mather gathered me and other students around her that were not going to be back at Prescott the following year (I was transferring to my local parochial school). She made us promise that when we learned how to read that we would come back and show her.

Reuniting 30 Years Later

Well, 30 years later, I found myself back in the neighborhood that I had grown up in. One day I was out in our front yard playing with our Siberian Husky, Ayla, when my 10 year old neighbor Erin stopped up for a visit. As we sat on the lawn and chatted she mentioned her 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Mather.

  • “Mrs. Dolores Mather?”I asked.
  • “Oh, I don’t know what her first name is” replied Erin.

Kids are funny that way. Many are surprised to find that you have a first name. It’s like when they come to you at school and say, “I saw you in your car yesterday,” or “I saw you last night at the grocery store. What were you doing there?”

Sometimes I think that students believe that we teachers are some sort of holographic image that cannot exist outside of the school and that the district shuts us down at night only to turn us back on the next morning.

So now I knew that Mrs. Mather was back at Prescott School. She had been one of those teachers that my mother kept tabs on over the years and mention her in conversation when she had news of her. Mrs. Mather had done a great many things with her career. She’d had been awarded a Fulbright and traveled. She trained other teachers and even aspired to administration. And now toward the end of her career, she was back in the school where she had started all those years ago.

One day, I was attending a district in-service at our central district office building. Our training ended at 3:00 PM and I was heading to my parents for a visit. As I was driving past Prescott School, I remembered that Mrs. Mather was inside so I decided that I would stop by and fulfill my promise: tell her that I learned to read!

I parked in the lot and made my way to the office. I signed in as a visitor and asked where Mrs. Mater’s room was.

  • “Down the hall, up the stairs, first door on your right.” I was told.

I headed down the hallway and at the base of the stairs passed room 109. The steam radiator was still located right outside the door. When I was in kindergarten I used to ask to go to the restroom and before leaving the room I would put broken crayons into my pockets. Once outside the door I would set them on the radiator and watch them melt. At the time I liked to consider it modern art.

I climbed the stairs and when I reached the top I turned to the right and saw the door to Mrs. Mather’s room. It was a door with several glass panes so I could see into the room. In front of the room stood Mrs. Mather who was no longer tall. She still had light hair, but it was no longer blonde.

I backed across the hallway and leaned up against the window sill as I waited for school to dismiss. The bell rang promptly at 3:30 PM and the door opened as children came out into the hall to head home. I said,”Hi” to several of the neighborhood children, who no doubt wondered why I was there. I waved at Erin as she came out and told her that I had come to see Mrs. Mather.

Mrs. Mather was the last person out the door and she walked right up to me.

  • “Hi Mrs. Mather, you probably don’t remember me,” I said.
  • “Of course I do,” she replied, “You’re Ron Coniglio and you’re a teacher.”
  •  “That’s right,” I answered,” but, you don’t know why I’m here today.”
  • “Yes I do, you came to show me you learned how to read,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

That was the beginning of the reconnection of a relationship that had lay dormant for 30 years. In the time that followed we met for lunch, visited each other’s homes, talked about education, politics, kindergarten, marriage and love.

Fulfilling a Kindergarten Dream

Two years later, I was teaching in a multi-age setting where we had a three classroom, sixty-two student team that had second, third, fourth and fifth grade students in the same class at the same time learning the same subject. It was a beautiful day late in the fall and I was in the office over my lunch break picking up items in my mailbox.

One of my teaching partners, Kelly, came in and said,

  • “Ron can you come down to your room? Some boys got sent in from recess for arguing over football. Something about clipping, is clipping a bad thing?”

She and I headed down to my room. Upon entering the room, I had expected to see a couple of our boys. Instead what I saw was all 62 children sitting on the area carpet in my room. In the front of the room was Mrs. Mather, my kindergarten teacher, a rocking chair and a crown. It was my birthday. She sat me in the rocking chair, placed the crown on my head and my students sang Happy Birthday to me.

What that showed me is that it is never too late to make a difference in the life of a child. As educators making a difference in the lives of children is why we teach.

How do you try to make a difference in your students' lives? Share in the comments section!

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