Mrs. Furr…

I was first introduced to her as Mrs. Cooper. I have no idea how old she was or wasn’t. She was one of those women who seem ageless. She was tall and thin and wore a wig, sometimes a bit ajar on her slightly large head. She dressed smartly, usually in pants suits, and carried herself like a choir director. She may have in fact been one on the side. I offer such as everyday, everyday, we sang. She would have us all stand for the pledge and then we, Mrs. Cooper’s 4th and 5th grade class, would sing. Usually we started with “Amazing Grace,” Mrs. Cooper had a pretty strong voice so she pretty much matched our effort, but we all sang. You did not fail to sing, the earth would open and swallow you or Mrs. Cooper would be mad which was worse. “She didn’t take no foolishness,” she often reminded some about to be punished plebe before sentencing. She didn’t. Not many of us, even myself at 4 foot something were scared of our 5’1” principal fellow, he was harmless, but Mrs. Coooper was a whole other story. We sang…”Amazing Grace,” maybe “God Bless America” or “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” and always, always…”Let There Be Peace on Earth,” her favorite of all favorites. Yes, this was public school in the 1970’s, Yes, in the most liberal and progressive county in the state of Georgia, and No! no one ever dared tell that to Mrs. Cooper. Mrs. Cooper had by her choice, the top ten and the ten poorest academic performers. A few regular folks were thrown in to absorb some of the divergency. Everyday, Mrs. Cooper would tell us how very smart that we were, all of us, because she had us, and she only got the best. And then she would steal a look at us in the smart zone and dare us to be less and live. Everyday, while the rest of the crowd tried to read or copy spelling words, she walked among us relating how we would be valedictorians of our class. She named every valedictorian she had ever taught, and how one day we would add to her list and become famous for such as well. Then we would receive our nearly college level reading assignments and be let loose on them. A 10:55 a.m. everyday, Mrs. Cooper sent the children out to get some air on the playground conveniently located outside her huge picture window. Her “babies,” that is legitimate future valedictorians, were allowed to linger…At 11:00 a.m. her friend, Miss Thompson came across the hall, her class disposed to P.E. or some purposeful pursuit. It was usually my  job to turn on the t.v. On came Bob Barker and The Price is Right. Barring nuclear disaster, she watched it faithfully. She would pull out peanut butter crackers, the orange packaged kind and tell one of us to run go get her a can of  Coke, handing the lucky envoy a quarter. Sometimes she bought us one. Then we would watch …or read or do something deathly quiet. There was no talking for children during The Price is Right. But she and Miss Thompson laughed and carried on at folks on the show. When the credits rolled, one of us called the kick ball and four square gangs on in for spelling tests. Here is where we earned our special status. Mrs. Cooper purposely filled her class with the most gifted and the least gifted academics. She explained to us, with high hopes of duplicating herself, “You don’t really know this material until you can can get them to know it.”  We were regular tutors for some children, occasional tutors for others. It built skills in us, but more importantly, humility and compassion…It broke my heart to see some of the children in that class try so hard and barely succeed in things which came so very easily for me. This was long before the age of “special needs students” having much special care…of course we had all types…but we worked with them one on one everyday. We succeeded when they succeeded in mastering what was required of them. Mrs. Cooper’s system broke every rule the Clarke County Board of Education could ever think to draft. But it worked…it produced better minds and hearts. I learned two important things from Mrs. Cooper…1. Every child is the best that there is because they are yours, and 2. Some rules and the folks who make them just need to be stared down. A few times someone called her out on her methodologies, she’d tell us about it, until The Price Is Right came on. We asked her what she said. “I didn’t say anything, I just stood my ground and looked them up and down.” In my two years as her student, she usually got her babies twice, I never saw her change her ways except to ramp them up a bit. She kept on singing and kept us singing and kept on speaking life and kept on requiring more where more was given and kept on watching Bob. Mama told me not too long ago that she saw that Mrs. Furr, she dropped her “new husband’s” name after she divorced him and returned to the name of her good as gold first husband, had died. Lord, I don’t know how old she was. I don’t have any idea how old she was when she taught me. But if she was 60 and I was 12 then she was 92 when she died. And for the record, she got her valedictorian our year; I give her all the credit.

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1 Comment

Filed under Character Sketch

One response to “Mrs. Furr…

  1. Oh, gosh, love that Bob Barker stuff. Who could imagine that happening today? I suppose they’d just watch it on their iPhones. And to be able to remember the names of all the valedictorians like that! What a memory!! Thanks for this visit with Ms. Furr

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