I don't know how it's done now, but when I was entering fourth grade in my New Jersey elementary school, we didn't find out which teacher's class we'd be in until the first day of school.
The student body assembled in the auditorium/gymnasium/lunchroom. The situation was a bit stressful in any school year, but especially so in that one. There were a couple of fourth-grade teachers, but everybody wanted Miss Primavera. (A little girl whose name was not in Miss P's roll book was so disappointed that she went to the girls' room, climbed out the window and ran home.)
My friend Dale and I were among the lucky ones. Our names were called; we got in line and followed the coveted schoolmarm to her classroom and a wonderful year.
I am fortunate to have had many good teachers. I can name every single one — from kindergarten through eighth grade, thank you very much. But my year in Miss Primavera's class is the most memorable — my favorite by far.
By my calculus, Agnes Primavera was 33 that September of 1959. Although she later married, I only think of her as "Miss Primavera." Her name comes up often when Dale and I are together. (Yes, my childhood friend also lives in Hagerstown.)
Agnes Primavera Braun, 85, died a few days before Christmas. Her obituary included the following: "Mrs. Braun taught for 37 years at the Frank Antonides School, West Long Branch. She will be remembered by her former students as a teacher that taught school, class and manners to each student with grace, care and love."
Miss Primavera was a demanding teacher who more than covered the curriculum. She expected her students to do their best. Yes, we tried hard in order to please her, but somehow, she worked it so we came to expect the best in ourselves.
It is the "class and manners, the grace, care and love" part of fourth grade that I cherish.
"Bonjour, mes amis," she greeted us each morning.
"Bonjour, Mademoiselle Primavera," we'd respond.
There was a daily inspection. She'd walk around the rows of little wooden desks and check for clean fingernails, handkerchief and healthful snack.
I still can picture the classroom. On a braided rug in the front right-hand corner was the "library table" — topped with a brass lamp, surrounded by four chairs and near bookshelves well stocked with biographies.
I remember the pastel-foil wings on the angels we made at Christmastime. Miss Primavera donned velvet slippers and climbed a small ladder to hang them on the bulletin boards.
More than a dozen former students emailed notes of condolence to the funeral home. Two of them had been in my class — more than 50 years ago. "I smile to remember our penmanship class with Rodgers and Hammerstein scores playing in the background," wrote Carole, a classmate.
"Teachers matter," President Barack Obama said in his recent State of the Union address.
I remember one who certainly did.
Rest in peace, Miss Primavera.
Kate Coleman covers The Maryland Symphony and writes a monthly column for The Herald-Mail.