Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Mrs. Sredich--My Kindergarten Teacher

A few weeks ago an email arrived in my inbox with the subject line 'Did you attend Pierce Elementary School'? The daughter of my Kindergarten teacher was reaching out because her mother, after watching a movie where the subject of illustrators was brought up,  mentioned a former student becoming a comic book artist. And with some lovely emails back and forth I reconnected with Mrs. Sredich for coffee. Below I'll explain why she was such an important teacher, and how I think there is a very direct line between her class (1/2 day PM Kindergarten) and my career.

Mrs. Sredich did the perfect job of shepherding kids into their educational life. This was in an age where pre-school wasn't a common track for most kids (or at least no kids I knew) and where Kindergarten was a half day to get kids used to being at home with Mom or Dad ready for the idea of spending most of their day at school from 1st grade on. She made you feel welcome, she addressed and acknowledged the fear and sadness some of the kids felt, and just came up with a way to distract us all into some creative learning. Pierce was a 'Creative Arts' public K-6 school. We had Art and Music year round with full time teachers for both.

In Kindergarten we had Must-Do's (learning assignments) and once we were finished with those for the day, we could go to one of the many activity stations for ‘Can-Do’s’. There was a painting area, a reading area, puzzles with number learning, and more––but the one I remember the most was a book nook for making books. Mrs. Sredich had pre-stapled blank booklets at a table also full of pencils, pens, & markers. We were supposed to fill the booklet with illustrations that told a story. And when we were done drawing, she'd come and sit with each student asking them to describe to her what was happing on that page. Then she'd help that student craft a sentence or two, and she'd use her print handwriting (better than our Kindergarten scrawl letters) to add the book's text.

At the end of that process, I'd have a book that I made. This was a big deal. I'd seen (and perhaps it had even been pointed out by Mrs. Sredich or a librarian) all the copyright and publisher information in the books I'd read. Books were important things that companies made, big printing machines churned out (I think I'd seen a video of a printing machine on Sesame Street or Mr. Rogers)...But in that book nook, I could make a book. I had the power to put a story on paper. It demystified the process while also making it all the more magical.

Unfortunately, none of my Kindergarten books survive to this day. But I think we can draw a pretty clear line between my days as a 5 year old in her class being given that opportunity and when I sat down to make issue 1 of Mouse Guard in 2005.

My dad (who'd been a teacher for a while) remembers being impressed by her creativity and out of the box thinking for education. She almost always had the best teacher costume in the Halloween parade, which made her 'one of us' I think, since a few teachers didn't participate at all. The activity she lead that made the biggest impression on my Dad was the day she put a large flat sheet down on the floor. Invited us all to sit on it in a circle, and then in the center of the circle she turned on a hot air popcorn popper and let the popped kernels fly all over, encouraging us to catch them or eat them. She used the exercise not just to keep us entertained and busy...but as a metaphor for metamorphosis and change.

I lived four houses away from the school. So I used the playground like my front yard. And in the summer between Kindergarten & 1st grade, I remember being up there and seeing the lights on in the Kindergarten room. I peered in and Mrs. Sredich was there, taking care of the chicks we'd raised in class from eggs. She was cleaning the hutch and preparing to get the chicks off to Mott farm. I visited with her in the classroom that day. I remember telling her I was scared about going to 1st grade, a new teacher, a new room, and a full-day of school. She reassured me. She let me know she was just down the hall if I needed her. She gave me the peace of spirit that Mr. Rogers made a career of broadcasting. And I got to hold the baby chicks without competing with other students for time or attention (I'm lucky to have photos of that visit since my Mom had her camera in her purse when she came looking for me).

So I feel very lucky not only to have had Mrs. Sredich as my Kindergarten teacher, but also to have reconnected with her. She has the same gentle and assuring spirit--the kind that makes you feel special just because she says it's so. At 85 she's still sharp as a tack and enjoys her coffee and sweets. Julia and I gifted her a box full of my books and prints, and she was so excited to look through them all and read them, she kept re-opening the box to peek at them as we chatted over coffee. A big thank you goes out to her daughter Jana. Not only for doing some online searching to find me and reaching out, but for also being so open to my offer of meeting for coffee.

Long live the teachers who make a difference. Long live Mrs. Sredich.

2019 Appearances
San Diego Comic Con July 17-21
GenCon August 1-4
New York Comic Con October 3-6
Baltimore Comic Con October 18-20
The Fantastic Workshop Nov. 13-18


Billy Hogan said...

One of my favorite teachers was Mr. Guy Kinney. His English class was the first one in 7th grade. At that time my town didn't have a middle school, so Jr. High was a separate wing of the High School campus. I would later have him for American Lit in 10th grade and Advanced Composition as a senior. One of the things he would do was play LP's of old radio shows. I listened to radio adaptions of "Sorry, Wrong Number", Poe's "A Tell-
Tale Heart" and Orson Welles' adaption of "War Of The Worlds".

Billy Hogan said...

I almost forgot that during the year I took American Lit, the school hosted an actor who was performing Hal Holbrook's one man show on Mark Twain. For a few days we spent the class listening to Hal Holbrook's LP as the American humorist.

Scott Suarez said...

My first grade teacher also allowed us to make books. I made comic books inspired by Star Wars, Battle Star Galactica, and Black Sheep Squadton. My mom saved several, and I still have mine!

MK Buike said...

What a wonderful experience.

I feel so concerned that many schools have all but eliminated art and music. So much is lost when the Arts aren't included in education.

Music was the most influential class I had. We had the same teacher from 4th through 12th grade. I learned SO much more than how to play an instrument in his program. John Cummins died 5 years ago, in his 90's. To this day there is a still a Facebook group of his students who will not let him be forgotten. For some of us it's been over 50 years since we were his students.

Oliver said...

As a teacher myself, this post made me quite tearful! I'm glad you found her again! Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.

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