Archive for February, 2010

… The Last Tribute

February 15, 2010

I don’t really have anything else to chat about regarding Mrs. Sewell, so I’ll end this tribute with something short, and to the point. It’s going to take all of about 5 seconds to read this one. Ready?

Thank you, Mrs. Sewell, for everything. I’m going to really miss you.

Tomorrow, I’ll go back to writing fun and happy things.

Until next time, friend,



… Cameras and Graveyards

February 14, 2010

Day 6. I can’t believe this week is almost up. It’s sort of bittersweet. On the one hand, I believe now that I’ve created a proper tribute for my favorite teacher, but on the other hand, I don’t know that I’ll be as consistent with my blogging when I stop this project. Having a steady subject and a schedule has made me commit more to this blog than the one I had on facebook. But, in the immortal words of countless teenagers: whatever.

Today, I thought I’d talk about how Mrs. Sewell influenced me without even knowing it. During my stay at Berkeley Lake Elementary School, I learned for the first time how to operate video cameras and mixing boards. Now, since this was an elementary school, and it was back in the mid-90s, the technology was correspondingly poor. But still, I gained my first appreciation of these technological wonders. I became a part of the broadcast team (you KNOW it!) that aired once a week – I think on Fridays. We operated two cameras, put titles and credits on the screen, and wrote the scripts as a team under the tutelage of the Media teacher, whose name, unfortunately, I can’t remember. Mrs. Sewell encouraged me to join, I guess because she thought I would excel at and enjoy working on that sort of a team. She was absolutely right if that was her line on thought. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and in college, selected a major that allowed me to do exactly that. Interesting, isn’t it, how things work out?

Now, on Mrs. Sewell’s birthday (May 16, I’ve always been able to remember that because the class got her a cake that was in the shape of a gravestone… it was weird.), we went on a field trip to a graveyard. I thought this was an exceptionally cool way to learn about history. She convinced a man named Mr. Medlock (whose family owned a ferry in the early days of English civilization in our part of Georgia, and whose family the local ‘Medlock’ street names are named after) to come speak to us about the history of of our local area. Further (and here’s the tie in to the previous paragraph), Mrs. Sewell put Jessica Steiner and myself in charge of the video portion of our class presentation about the trip. So we traipsed around after Mr. Medlock and listened to his stories in the graveyard at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church. We learned that buried in this graveyard was the first boy born in Georgia and a good bit of his family, the Ivys. The road across the street was named for him, Lou Ivy Road. We etched epitaphs and read names. We found fallen soldiers and pioneers. It was actually a very cool field trip, and very unique.

So, teachers beware, what you encourage your students to do may have a profound impact on the kinds of life they choose to lead. You never know.

Until next time, friend,


… Stopping in the name of Love, and Soap.

February 13, 2010

It’s day five, and I’m running out of ideas. I mean, come on. It was 14 years ago, after all. The details are fading. But there are a few more things I can dredge up for the sake of this tribute. They involve songs and soap. Remember back in the second blog when I said I knew to “Stop! when a word ends in a single consonant, preceded by a single vowel, you double the consonant, add ‘ed,’ ‘ing,’ whatever you want it to be”? Well, sometimes, to catch us off-guard, Mrs. Sewell would randomly break out instead into that old Diana Ross classic, “Stop! In the Name of Love,” and of course, we would all break down into hysterical laughter. One of the little things that made her class so fun.

Another little anecdote that came to mind today as I was thinking of what to write about today involves Teacher Appreciation day. Usually, this is the day in which all kids try their hardest to pretend they actually like their teachers by bringing them the fruit baskets and cards of appreciation purchased by parents who don’t understand the injustice or the indignity. But with Mrs. Sewell, it didn’t seem like such a bad thing. That particular year, however, my beloved fifth grade was in for a surprise of her own. For some inexplicable reason, almost everyone in the class brought in a basket of scented soaps. From one student, that’s very nice. From two or three, ok, cool. But from like 20 students? 20 baskets of soap? Mrs. Sewell, having a very admirable sense of humor, was like, “Are you guys trying to tell me something?? Do I stink??” She took it gracefully though. And, as we learned in yesterday’s blog, Mrs. Sewell is naturally self-cleaning, so she really had nothing to worry about anyway.

To you, the reader: only two more days. I’m too tired to continue. Are you, too?


… Big Screens and Little Crabs

February 12, 2010

For the fourth installment of this tribute to Mrs. Mary Brooks Sewell, I want to reminisce about some of the other field trips we took. Three, to be exact. The Cyclorama, Washington D.C., and Jeckyll Island.

Mrs. Sewell took us to the Cyclorama in Grant Park in Atlanta maybe halfway through the year. For those of you who don’t know, a cyclorama is basically just a big circular display that allows the viewer to sit in the middle. The Atlanta Cyclorama houses one of the world’s largest oil paintings. In fact, up until 2004, it was the largest oil painting. Depicted in this 42×358 foot behemoth is the Battle of Atlanta. Interestingly, the dude that commissioned  the painting was a Union general, so I think we can safely assume that the heroic acts of the Union forces (specifically this guy’s unit) are rendered rather more generously than they actually occurred. Obviously, the Yanks only won because they were better funded. The sinews of war are infinite money, after all. Cicero said that. I guess he would know. Anyway, at the Atlanta Cyclorama, you come up through the floor and the painting revolves around you. It’s extremely intricate and very cool, especially for anyone who loves the Civil War, interesting paintings, or even neat-o engineering feats. Plus, the building itself is one of the more architecturally pretty buildings in the city. You know, since ol’ Sherm burnt the place to the ground. Really, anyone who is just a little bit curious should check out the wikipedia article for the Atlanta Cyclorama, because it really is a very interesting bit of history. I never would have even known about it if Mrs. Sewell hadn’t brought us there that year.

The second trip, the Washington D.C. trip was not actually her class, but a FOCUS trip of which she was one of the chaperone teachers. This was the very first time I had ever been to our nation’s capitol; I have been two times since, and I have longed to go at least once every month since that first time. All that history, all that heritage has a strong pull on me. We did the quick educational tour as a couple of small groups. You know, hit all the major monuments, check out a couple Smithsonian museums, view the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, gaze at the Kennedy flame, picnic on the Mall. It was amazing. But I bring up this trip mostly to explain about the one and only time I have ever stolen anything. On the Mall, there were a few vendors, one of which sold these bronze little Washington monument statues that were thermostats. Stupid, I know. But I wanted one, and I didn’t have the five bucks to pay for it. So, when the guy’s back was to me, I put one in my fanny pack. That’s how cool I was. Stealin’ junk and puttin’ in my fanny pack. Remarkably, I was never caught. Mrs. Sewell never knew, none of my classmates were aware, or else they couldn’t have cared less. Well, anyone who knows Mrs. Sewell knows that she never missed an opportunity to teach manners, etiquette, and ethics. I had been hearing those things from my parents for years, but lessons come much easier from those who are not your parents, so for about six months, I had been absorbing those same lessons from this Savannah-bred gentlewoman. So naturally, I enjoyed that stupid thermostat for all of about half a day. Then I felt panicked and paranoid because I was positive Mrs. Sewell or one of the other chaperones was going to catch me. I made it back to Georgia safely, with no one the wiser. But now, instead of feeling paranoid, I felt incredibly guilty. I couldn’t give it back. I couldn’t send the vendor money. The only thing I could do was confess what I did and accept the punishment. But I never did. Oh, I was a coward, for sure. But I couldn’t risk this teacher that I was really coming to respect and genuinely enjoy look at me with disappointment. That was the worst. So, being the coward, I ducked that responsibility. However, having gained the sort of self-respect that only a woman like Mrs. Sewell could instill in a kid, I have held myself above such actions ever since. I may not have learned that directly from her, but she had that sort of effect on you if you hung around her long enough. She just made you want to be a better person. I dare say if that trip had come even two weeks later than it did, I wouldn’t have taken the thing at all.

Lastly, there was the Jeckyll Island trip to the 4H center on the coast of Georgia. This bit is a little more of an anecdote than anything else. It was just a flash of memory, but I thought it worth telling. First, Mrs. Sewell had us all out in the marshes slogging around while the tide was out. A good few of us got stuck in the muck, and when our peers tried to pull us out, inevitably, they got stuck, too. Well, Mrs. Sewell had a fine laugh about that, until she managed to get mired, as well. When we finally made it to where she wanted us to be, she dug down, blindly, into the mud and pulled up a tiny crab. It was awesome for us. This teacher, this genteel Southern woman, was fearless. When we got back to our dorms, we had to write these daily journals diagramming and writing about what we had seen and smelled and heard and touched and learned. We were all scattered around the 4H campus, a few on the basketball court, several on the front porch, and I was in my bunk. My tape player (that’s right, my tape player) had long since run out of battery, so it was just the sounds of the camp I could hear. Oh yeah, and Mrs. Sewell’s sudden blood curdling scream. Obviously, my interest was diverted from my work as she came running out of her room wrapped in a towel. She saw me (I’ll admit I was terrified. Mrs. Sewell in a towel?? Mrs. Sewell doesn’t need to take showers! She is naturally self-cleaning.) and and offered me extra credit to get rid of “it” in her shower stall. Ladies and gentlemen, “it” was a crab. Of the exact same variety she had so unflinchingly pulled from the marsh. The crab kept its life, and she kept her dignity, and after that trip, we shared a much closer bond. I still smile when I see a tiny crab scuttling to places not yet ventured by any other. And I hope he manages to find that crab I removed and share stories of their crazy adventures.

So, there you go: more stories, more tribute. My Atlanta Journal article was written in such haste that I couldn’t possibly have expressed all that I feel about her, all that I learned from her. In doing this project, I feel like I’ve venerated her much more accurately and much more expressively than I did in the other. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about her as much as I’ve enjoyed writing about her. Only three more days, and then I’ll return to my normal thoughts… I hope you stick around that long, assuming you’re here now.

(Still don’t have a catchy “farewell” phrase)


… Other Teachers

February 11, 2010

Today I was chatting with some of my former teachers, and I said that when I respect a teacher, I perform more cooperatively. My answers are not sarcastic. My work is not barely adequate. My memories are not unpleasant. At the beginning of my year with Mrs. Sewell, I couldn’t stand her. She pushed too hard, I thought. She made me actually make an effort because she graded me not according to the standards of other kids, but by her own standard for me personally. It wasn’t “do the least amount of effort it takes to get an A” because she didn’t accept that I was simply talented. What it took for me to receive an A may not have been the same as what it took another student to get A. Thinking about that style of teaching really makes you appreciate just how far she went for her students. She had to get to know each of her students, each of their strengths, each of their weaknesses, and decide how best to teach each one. If the number of attendees at her funeral was any indication, she did this consistently each year for 30 years. That’s a lot of students. I certainly wouldn’t have cared that much. That kind of effort produces a heck of a lot of respect – from friends, peers, and students alike. No wonder her students performed well. No wonder I performed well.

… Grammar in the New Age

February 10, 2010

In this second installment of my new blog, the second day of tribute to Mrs. Sewell, I want to discuss the influence she had over me academically. Mostly, that falls in the grammar and the English language categories. When I see kids today (and by kids, I mean middle school to college age), and I see their pitiful attempts at writing, it makes me a little sad inside, but also a little angry. I’ll see something like “i luv how wen ppl go 2 skool and try to learn stuff its funny and stuff” and it kills me inside. Literally, a small part of me dies when I read something like that. Mrs. Sewell would have been appalled. I remember at least once a day we would diagram sentences. And I hated it. But in retrospect, I am so grateful she foisted that on us. Throughout middle school, throughout high school, and throughout college, this basic understanding of grammar and the construction of sentences served to shove me to the head of my English classes. Especially in college, where I still encountered people who couldn’t form a simple sentence correctly, much less a complex one with an “and” or something. Sometimes, I wouldn’t remember what a dangling participle was, but by golly, I knew it was wrong! I know that cakes are done, and people are finished. I know my helping verbs front-ways and back. I know to STOP! when a word ends in a single consonant, preceded by a single vowel  you double the consonant, add “ed,” “ing,” whatever you want it to be. I know that prepositions are absolutely not to be used at the end of a sentence, and I know what a preposition is. I know about antecedents and pronouns; that adjectives describe nouns; and that adverbs are adjectives for verbs. She taught me all these things and more, and all in fifth grade. I know some of my peers didn’t learn about antecedents until English 1o1 in college. I mean, evidently, thanks to this woman, I learned advance English eight years ahead of the curve. That’s just amazing to me. I’ve turned into a grammar Nazi among my friends, and I would absolutely love to be a copy editor for a major magazine or newspaper. When I see poor grammar in high school, I consider it a travesty of the highest degree. I frequently remind people who have poor grammar skills (and who seem not to care) that it is their language, and they should understand it. This understanding and commitment is all thanks to Mrs. Sewell, and I frequently give her all due credit. When she was still teaching at Berkeley Lake, I would visit her, mostly on her birthday. During those times, I would tell her that she was the best teacher I ever had, and she would be all modest, but I still don’t feel like I told her enough how much she meant to me. I’m only sad that I can’t hire her as a mentor for my own kids (should I ever decide I want any), and that she can’t continue to be one of the last bastions of higher education in a world where public school funding is like a literal crap shoot (of the toilet variety, not the gambling metaphor).

Thus, I say adieu, in as Southern an accent as I can manage – because let’s face it: although the language is pretty, nobody likes a Frenchy.


… My First Official Blog

February 8, 2010

Today’s post will, barring unforseen internet failure, be the first of a week’s worth of tributary posts to a woman who influenced my life and profoundly impacted me. Mrs. Mary Brooks Sewell passed away last week, and I was able to attend her funeral Saturday with a large number of her family, friends, and former students like myself. It was a lovely ceremony, and I know I’ll miss my fifth grade teacher immensly. Later that same day, a friend of mine at my church gave me a page she had torn out of a magazine about blogging. She said she thought of me and convinced me to give it a try. So, today, as I’m slowly being driven crazy by a combination of loud toys, obnoxious children, rude parents, and sorry technology, here I am giving this “blogging” thing a try outside of my infrequent facebook notes. Day one is henceforth dedicated to that woman who dealt with us obnoxious kids for 30 years. 17 of them at my own Berkeley Lake Elementary. Let the reminiscing begin…

The first field trip we ever took in Mrs. Sewell’s class was less than a mile from the school. We walked to get there, and it was one of the best field trips of the year. Our class of 24 trecked outside and down the road to the dock at the Berkeley Lake Chapel to learn about the ecosystem. We dug up grubs, we caught guppies, we diagramed plants and insects, and we planted grass seeds. And let me tell you, when that group of boys found the grubs, Mrs. Sewell was right there in the mix, helping to trowel dirt and cautioning the boys not to harm the the little white sick-nasties. When the first guppy was caught, she hosted a fish-naming ceremony right there. She was as excited to show us the delicate patterns of tree bark as she was to show us the lazy stop-and-go flight paths of the dragonflies. It was this infectious excitement to learn, I think, that really drew me to her. No other teacher has ever expressed such enthusiasm or passion when teaching me before. Don’t get me wrong… I’ve had other passionate teachers, and other enthusiastic teachers, and other great teachers. But Mrs. Sewell was the most passionate, the most enthusiastic, and the greatest teacher that I’ve ever had.

With that, I’ll wrap up this first blog with a big “thank you” to not only anyone who decides to read this short post, but also to anyone who decides to stick with me here as I venture into the blogosphere, to Mrs. Wehrheim, who convinced me to give it a try, and lastly to Mrs. Sewell, hopefully logged on in Heaven.

(I need a catchy ending phrase)


ps. These blogs will be a little sparse until I really figure out what I’m doing. We all know how tech-savvy I am…