Louise Tucker Jones: The Great Train Ride

It was the trip of a lifetime. Our third grade class taking a train ride! No matter that we were boarding a small mail car, bound for a destination just fifteen-miles away. We were as excited as if we were boarding the Orient Express, not that we had ever heard of the infamous train.

Our teacher, Miss Vincent, was young and new to our little farming community. She wasn’t satisfied with the ho-hum, everyday run-of-the-mill kind of teaching. She wanted her students to experience more of life and under her tutelage we did.

On this particular day, we packed sack lunches and rode seven miles to the little train station in Henryetta where we pressed our young faces against the windowpanes, anxiously watching and waiting for the mail car. Finally, it arrived and Miss Vincent shooed her brood of eight-year-olds into the small train car for the short ride to Dustin, where we found an open field to run, play and spread our picnic lunches in the Oklahoma sunshine.

I don’t even remember the season, whether we wore sweaters or short sleeves. The joy was in the ride itself, hearing the clickety-clack of metal wheels on rails and doing something I had never dreamed of in my young life. After our lunch and some outside games, we boarded the same mail car and returned to our depot of departure, getting back to school in time to catch the bus home and tell our families about our great adventure. I’m sure Miss Vincent had us write a report about the trip but such details are lost forever. Only the adventure of the train ride and a teacher who was willing to step out of the box remain in my memory.

When I began my teaching career, I wanted to be like Miss Vincent. In fact, even in college I had the opportunity to teach Sunday School to a group of ten-year-old boys in San Marcos, Texas, where I held a summer job.

Several weeks into the summer I found that some of the boys had never been swimming at the city park—a river running through town that was roped off in areas for safety. I decided to take them. We chose a meeting time and place. The boys were waiting when I arrived, so excited they could hardly stand it. So much like me on that third grade train ride.

After our swimming adventure we had ice cream cones and soft drinks and on that very day, I became their hero. On that same day I realized how difficult it was going to be to leave these kids at the end of the summer—and it was. I cried as they gave me small gifts on my last Sunday with them.

During my first year of teaching, I cried again as I left my 7th grade students behind after they gave me a surprise baby shower, knowing I would never teach these children again. On another assignment, I laughed along with my high school students when one of the boys revealed a coal black, furry kitten hidden under his jacket. He had sneaked it in for my son’s second birthday.

And so it went with each class I taught. They left joy and tears in my heart and I left knowledge and love in theirs, and hopefully, something unique like a swimming trip, a baby shower or a train ride.

If you are a teacher, try to do something special with your students. If you’re a parent, give your kids’ teachers a hug or a handshake. Teaching is a tough job, but the rewards and blessings last a lifetime.

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