Susan Spess Shay

Still playing make believe.


One of My Favs

Most every kid in the in the lower grades of my elementary school was scared to death of one teacher. Miss Holler. (Insert scary music.)

And it wasn’t just her name.

Miss Holler was tall, slender, had gray hair and the severe look of an old time school marm. When skirts were getting shorter, hers did not. When colors were brighter and lighter, hers were not. When hairdos got longer and bigger, hers did not.

Her look became very severe when she had cafeteria duty, which was about the only time the little kids saw her, because she taught fifth and sixth grade.

My fear of the woman started in second grade. If someone broke a crayola and got upset, the teacher said, “When you get in Miss Holler’s class, she’ll make you break all your crayons in half on the first day of school!”

“Miss Holler is strict.”

“Miss Holler won’t let you . . . ”

Just hearing about her scared me.

Miss Holler never married, which made me wonder if she even liked kids. She lived with her mother in the house where she was raised until her mom died. Then she lived there by herself.

And even though she was a member of my church, I didn’t get to know her. She wasn’t in my parent’s Sunday School class and didn’t come to many of the church parties or get-togethers.

And she wasn’t one of the sweet older women who loved it when you ran past them at church and yelled hello. Somehow, you got the impression Miss Holler expected you to walk in church. No yelling.

By the time I reached 5th grade, I was worried about having her for a teacher. Big time. In 5th grade, we started changing classes, and while Mr. Mitchell was my home room teacher (we adored that man!) Miss Holler was to be our Penmanship and Art teacher.

On the first day, I practically hugged my box of Crayola Crayons. I didn’t want to have to break all sixty-four of the brand new beautiful things to pieces, even if it meant I’d get an A in Art.

The first thing we learned in her class was that she was nice. She gave us great art projects to do, such as paper mache giraffes. Mine had a crooked head, which I thought made it look as if it was about to speak. I painted him pink with darker pink spots. (#4, who was just a baby, broke it about as soon as I took it home. LOL.)

And we made posters every year to enter in the county Conservation Contest. She always had something fun and interesting for us to learn in her art class.

Penmanship wasn’t as much fun. Hers was the class where we scrawled capital O’s across the page. Mine usually looked like a long, bent spring, but it was supposed to teach you to be a good writer.

I didn’t flunk that class, but I wasn’t her top student in either subject.

Miss Holler didn’t erase the black board one time that year. She was allergic to chalk dust, so instead of using erasers, she kept a big can of water with a sponge in it, and washed off the board.

To this day, I love seeing a black black board instead of one gray with dust like in the most class rooms.

In sixth grade, Miss Holler was my home room teacher, and even though the other 6th grade teacher was Mr. Findley, who was cute and fun and just out of college, I was thrilled to have her.

That year, she taught us geography, and for the first time, I loved it. It wasn’t just boring books with an occasional picture. (In 4th grade, our teacher usually napped during geography, so I knew it couldn’t be interesting.)

But Miss Holler made it interesting. She assigned each student a different country or region. (I got the Scandinavian Countries.)

It would have been a breeze if we’d had computers. But back then, we had to dig through stacks of National Geographic Magazines she’d saved through the years.

I’m not sure how she did it, but Miss Holler guided us through researching and writing what amounted to a long term paper–and (huge surprise) we enjoyed it! Of course, she didn’t tell us it was a term paper, so we didn’t know we were supposed to hate writing it.

And in her class, we got to do something I’d never done before in school. Watch TV! When NASA sent an astronaut into space, we were “there.”

Miss Holler taught us how to be an individual by example. She didn’t try to dress or talk or act like the other teachers in the building. She was always fair to every student, and even when a boy’s thumb went numb because the hole in his sissors was too small for his large hand, she didn’t tell him to lose weight. She didn’t baby him or assign one of the girls to do his work.

She checked his thumb, briskly told him it would most likely be fine, then loaned him her “official teacher” sissors and gave him time to complete his task.

And, amazingly, she liked us. All of us. Those who were artistically talented like Cathy and Mary, and those of us who could only imagine. And even those of us who wrote our own newspapers.

She truly was a great lady.