Alvina, my first teacher and the star of my book Yoder School, has died. She turned ninety-five on her last birthday, so I’ve known this was coming. Still, in the days since her death, a rippling sadness has stayed with me.
It’s been sixty years since I sat in first grade wanting to be a teacher like Alvina and nearly forty years since I stood in front of my first class of students. As I took class after class on the way to a teaching degree, I measured my other teachers and professors and eventually myself by Alvina. She was my yardstick.
When I heard she was dying, I sent her a note, one that probably arrived too late. Alvina had already known from our conversations and my book that she had been my polestar. What she didn’t know, I wrote in that note, is that young teachers have been writing me.
“What would Alvina do?” they ask about a student who learns faster or struggles more than the rest. How would Alvina teach under the pressure of high-stake tests?
And like them, I’ve often wished I could transplant Alvina. What would have happened if she had come into my middle school classes or into the gifted program or into the state prison school? I often asked myself the same question young teachers are asking—What would Alvina do?
I often didn’t know.
But all along the way, I tried to bring to my students that wide-eyed feeling that kept washing over me in Alvina’s room.
To Alvina, I wrote in the Yoder School book I signed for her, who brought wonder to me.