The Influence of Teachers: The Story of Mrs. Booth

When I was in first grade, I had a teacher named Mrs. Booth. She was an outrageously hip product of the early ‘70s – very hippie-esque, with long flowing skirts and sandals, uber-cool Afro-styled hair, and enormous hoop earrings. Most days she wore some kind of beaded necklace or bracelet that always made me think of macramé.

Mrs. Booth took the entire first grade on a field trip once, to a local beachside community. To be honest, I can’t remember the original purpose of the field trip. There must have been some sort of educational relevancy. (… Or … I don’t know, maybe not. This was the ‘70s, afterall.) But mostly I remember running across the sand with 25 other first graders, squealing with delight when the Pacific hit our toes, and our shoes becoming a tangled mess of 50 mismatched sneakers back on the beach with the adults. I held hands with a girl named Robin, who was my bus partner, and drank soda for the first time out of a can with a straw. I remember there being something to do with a firefighting boat that patrolled the harbor – I think we got a little tour of how it worked, or something. But that was neither here nor there — the real highlight of the trip, at least in my mind, was Mrs. Booth’s sailboat, which she lived on.

Long before the day of law suits and fine-print permission slips, I guess it was okay for teachers to be a little more personal about field trips, and I remember Mrs. Booth letting us all funnel single-file into her boat. As if she weren’t cool enough with her macramé necklaces, Mrs. Booth’s groovy quotient rose another 10 points with that boat. Because it was her house. We 7-year-olds couldn’t get over it. She lived on the sailboat (it was probably all of 20 feet) with her groovy husband, who also looked like a hippie, and their pet parrot. There were dark-wood cabinets for a kitchen, and there was a little wooden table where they ate. Their bed was in the back, sunken as if it were on the floor, and she said the harbor rocked them to sleep every night. I couldn’t imagine a more romantic life.

When first grade ended, I remember crying. I really loved Mrs. Booth. We all did. On the last day of school, she wrote little poems to each of the kids, rhyming their name with a cute little diddy – Heidi, Heidi keeps her desk tidy – etc. Sometimes she used last names, and sometimes she had to bury the name to come up with a better rhyming word. But I totally remember mine: She said mine was easy: Laurie, Laurie, tell me a story.

I don’t know if it was the fact that I admired Mrs. Booth so much, or thought she was so wise with those macramé bracelets, or if I already knew I wanted to be a writer somehow, but I remember beaming with delight when she said my rhyme aloud to the class. I remember the class clapping. I remember walking up to receive the little paper necklace with the tin-foil star she’d typed it on. And I remember it feeling right. It felt like she’d just put me on my road in life.

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0 thoughts on “The Influence of Teachers: The Story of Mrs. Booth

  1. I remember my 5th grade teacher in a Catholic elementary school. There were at least 40 kids in the class and yet I learned so much. She loved to read out loud to the entire class. My favorite was the story “The Abandoned.” I remember being shocked that even the BOYS behaved so they could hear the story.

    Yes, she definitely got you, Laurie, Laurie, tell me a story~!

  2. Kat — You went to a Catholic elementary school??? Okay, based on your blog, I now have to put you into that category I have called “Craziest Girls I Know — All of Whom Went to Catholic School.” (That “stereotype” just gets stronger and stronger for me.) Anyway, yes, those fave teachers are so clear, aren’t they? And part of their power is that all the kids — including the rowdy boys — loved them, too. That’s a great story about “The Abandoned.”

  3. Too funny you wrote about this today because I just blogged about my 8th grade English teacher yesterday!

  4. Okay, I wish you could hear me belly laughing~! Not only did I go to elementary school, I graduated from a Catholic high school. Went there from 5th to 12th grade.

    It’s funny how the special teachers so stand out, and, unfortunately, the truly horrendous ones. I so want to read the story again as an adult but part of me wants to hear her read it again. She never minded if my nose was buried in a book!

  5. WindyA — Went to your blog and read your post. Love it. Did you ever tell Mr. G? I wonder if teachers have any idea of the powerful influence they have …

    Kat — Holy Toledo, HS, too? (Does your craziness factor rise with each year completed?) : ) Actually, the bad teachers kind of get filtered out of my memory altogether, but the good ones I remember constantly. It’s interesting to watch my kids react to certain teachers now. I always wonder “Is THAT going to be the one they blog about someday?” ha, ha …

  6. I think Suzanne had Mrs. Booth, too, probably a year before you. Didn’t she live on a houseboat? (I don’t recall the hip factore at all, or the fro, but I was pretty little and maybe the woman I’m picturing was her kindergarten. But I’m pretty sure Mrs. Booth lived did live on a houseboat…

  7. I had a band director in high school that had a profound impact on my life. Not only did he get me to see music in a different sort of way, but he mentored me, taking me under his wing and helping me through some difficult life changes as well as music. He did this with many of his students. He literally was like Mr. Holland in the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus. The things he taught me stayed with me and I employ some of them still.

    One of my most cherished memories was the time when I was really ill and had to miss a concert. He wrote me a note and stuck it in my sax case. It said something to the effect of how much he would miss me but to stay in bed and get well because “someone over here really cares about you.” To find that in my case when I started feeling better was to me a feeling of being loved and valued. Such a great human being and a great music teacher.

  8. Jeanne — That’s a terrific story about your band teacher! What a kind person. Your mentioning “Mr. Holland’s Opus” also made me realize that there ARE quite a few movies about teachers who influence students greatly (Dead Poet’s Society, Stand and Deliver, etc.), so it must be an experience we all share in one way or another. Were you ever able to tell your band director what an impact he had on you?

  9. I actually did. I was able to email him about 18 or so years after he was my teacher and tell him just that. It was so nice to be able to tell him, and he was just as kind as he had been way back then.

    Did you get the chance to tell Mrs. Booth?

  10. Oh, Jeanne, that’s great! I love to hear stories where a teacher finds out years later how much he/she meant to a student.

    But, alas, no, I never told Mrs. Booth. In fact, I think she disappeared from my elementary school before I was even out of 4th grade. I wonder what ever happened to her and her houseboat and her groovy husband and her parrot. …

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