Penkava: Gee, Miss Landers, I got a question …

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

About a year ago I ran a column titled “Gee, Miss Landers, you’re kinda neat.”  I had fun going back in time, imagining a conversation between Theodore (The Beaver) Cleaver and his third-grade teacher, Miss Landers, as they started out a new school year together. She was so kind and understanding and, gulp, drop-dead gorgeous. I must admit, every time I think about her, I still get all mushy inside.

But mushiness aside, I was thinking that it would be kind of neat if we all could benefit from some more of Miss Landers’ insights about school life. So this year, let’s see how she answers some of our questions, as we picture her sitting at her desk in her classroom wearing her striped party dress, with her twinkling eyes and captivating smile, ready to ease our minds and melt our hearts …

Dear Miss Landers,

I was wondering … what do I do if I get stuck this year with a mean teacher who always wants to punish me? – Little Angel from Algonquin

Dear Little Angel,

If I were you, I’d play a trick on this teacher. I’d be really, really good all year. Listen in class, do all your work and be nice to everyone. This will drive that mean teacher crazy, and she will never get to have any fun punishing you. That’ll teach her!

Dear Miss Landers,

What if I’m supposed to learn stuff that is really boring? – Mind-numbed in Marengo

Dear Mind-Numbed,

I like to tell my students that learning is like having to eat everything on your plate. Sure, you have to wade through the dreary vegetables, but every once in a while, you get to take an exhilarating bite out of a succulent half-pound triple bacon cheeseburger with extra jalapeņos. And sneaking a nibble or two of a Twinkie during math couldn’t hurt, either!

Dear Miss Landers,

My parents say that I must get good grades or I will turn out like my Uncle Bill. What should I do? – Pressured in Prairie Grove

Dear Pressured,

Your parents are correct in encouraging you to get good grades. As for your Uncle Bill, there is always hope. After all, who would have thought that Eddie Haskell would grow up to become a police officer?

Dear Miss Landers,

What if I don’t know the answer when my teacher calls on me? – Worried in Woodstock

Dear Worried,

Once I called on the Beaver and he didn’t know the answer. He said, “Gee, Miss Landers, I’m just a kid, how should I know?” He reminded me that children are kids, not miniature adults. We shouldn’t expect them to know things just because we grown-ups know them. So just trust your teacher to help you if you don’t know something. That’s what they get paid the big bucks for. 

Dear Miss Landers,

I am a retired teacher and I have a problem. For decades I got all excited waiting for the first day of school. Now, I kinda miss it. What should I do? – Crestfallen in Crystal Lake

Dear Crestfallen,

It’s understandable that you feel a little blue when it’s time for another school year to start. After all, it was a big part of your life for so long. Have you ever thought about doing some writing? You could think of your readers as your class. I bet you have all kinds of things you could share with them. That way school will never be out, and you will always be a teacher.

Wow, Miss Landers, you are common sense wrapped in a striped party dress! It’s no wonder the Beaver observed, “Gee, Miss Landers, you’re not goofy like all the other teachers.”

So here’s hoping that all you students and teachers have a great year together! When the school doors open, step in with passion and curiosity and imagination, and don’t stop until you run out of first days.

• Michael Penkava is a retired teacher who taught for 35 years at West Elementary School in Crystal Lake. He still gets all dressed up for the first day of school and then sits down and writes a column. He can be reached at mikepenkava@comcast.net.

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