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Classroom Memories: ‘I lost my heart to those kids’

My first year of teaching came in 1934 at a rural school, District 56, in Martin County, Minn.  It was one room, 32 kids, all eight grades were represented. I made $50 per month.

I lost my heart to those kids! Even now, over 80 years later, I am still in contact with some of them. They’ll always be “my kids” and they call me “Teach.”

I taught at two more rural schools and nearly 20 years in school districts at Dunnell and Petersburg, Minn., and 12 years in the Bloomington school system. I had hundreds of students over the years (I never counted, but I didn’t ever have 32 students in a classroom again).

Of course, I have many stories of my teaching years, some funny, some sad, some happy and have often said that every dedicated teacher could fill a book with their classroom recollections. To pick a favorite memory is difficult, but here is one of mine.

Ferne Nelson and her first-grade class, Dunnell Grade School, 1948-49.

Ferne Nelson and her first-grade class, Dunnell Grade School, 1948-49.

A new school year, a new class of first-graders at Dunnell Grade School. Dunnell is my home town and elementary school alma mater! There was no kindergarten in those years (the late ‘40s), so this was the first classroom experience for all, and of course, the first time away from home for a full day. One child was audibly crying as the school day was to begin, so to make this youngster more comfortable with new surroundings, and to divert attention of the rest of the class from his sobs, I spent much more time with the “let’s get acquainted” portion of the morning.

I led the class on a tour of the entire school. A trip was taken to the lunchroom; we looked at other classrooms, the library, the gymnasium and stage and of course, located the restrooms. There was not an area of the building not included in the tour. Tears were getting a bit quieter. Back in the classroom we examined the hooks in the cloakroom, the storage cupboards, the blackboards and chalk. As the students sat at their desks, I began to point out bulletin boards with “Welcome to First Grade” messages when one impatient little girl raised her hand and asked, “But Mrs. Nelson, when does SCHOOL start?!”

And that young girl, years later became a teacher herself, a lifelong friend and educational colleague.

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