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Our Lady of 121st Street — Steppenwolf Ensemble Members Share Stories About Their Grade School Experiences

In Our Lady of 121st Street, the funeral of the much–beloved and much–feared Sister Rose is the initiating event for the reunion that occurs in the play. This got us thinking about our favorite teachers, and not so favorite ones, and we asked Steppenwolf ensemble members to talk about some of the most influential teachers in their early school careers. Tracy Letts — First grade, my teacher, Mrs. Parker, was probably my most influential teacher. She encouraged reading and writing the way a first grade teacher should. We had to make a little book, and my book was called "The Psychopath." Illustrated, with a little story. The cover of the book showed a man who had hung himself and shot himself in the head, a little detective story. A lot of teachers would have seen that and alerted social services. Yet Mrs. Parker gave me an A++, saying it was very creative. A first grade teacher in a small town in Oklahoma in 1971 — pretty progressive, huh? Rick Snyder — There was Mrs. Nimmons, who was like eighty when I was in grade school. It was supposed to be the kiss of death to have her for your teacher. Her reputation was that she was really mean. And I got her for fourth grade, and she turned out to be the nicest lady. If you were talking in class, her punishment was to sit you on her lap. That was supposed to be a punishment, but everybody would laugh, she would laugh, then you would laugh. It put you in your place in a very gentle way. It was the first time I realized that people weren't always what they appeared to be. Martha Lavey — I was in second grade at the Queen of the Holy Rosary School in Overland Park, Kansas, and my teacher was Miss Edson. In the old days, she would have been referred to as a spinster, but she was a dignified, older gentlewoman, with a gracious bearing and wavy, white hair. She played the piano for our class, and she spoke very respectfully to us. She liked me a lot. As a sign of her affection, I was able to take home a big statue of the Blessed Virgin that we had in our class, that had its own rosary in the base. In my bedroom at the time, I had a little "May altar," which was in honor of Mary's month, with flowers and statues of Mary. I felt really special saying the rosary in front of my altar, with the rosary that Miss Edson had given me. Rondi Reed — A teacher that had a great impact on my life (and not a positive one) was my 5th grade math teacher, Miss Lehman. I ended up having her in 6th grade as well. She used to make fun of me in front of the class. She'd say, "You're really bad at math, aren't you?" She was a spinster who wore bright red lipstick and had big buck teeth, and she used to wipe the lipstick off her teeth with a handkerchief. And she called me "Rhonda" for two years! I was pretty traumatized. When I became a senior bank teller years later, and I was dealing constantly and successfully with math, I thought, "She's probably spinning in her grave right now!" It's the bad teachers that really motivate you. Amy Morton — I had a great teacher named Mr. Korineck in sixth grade. He was the English teacher, who would have us read "To Build a Fire" or "The Pearl," brilliant short stories that were way ahead of our class. We would read out loud, which I loved because I was such a little ham. Then he would make us discuss what we had read like we were adults, which was new to us. A bunch of us would stay after class and mimeograph the stories and get high from the fumes, but that wasn't the reason we stayed behind. We stayed because the discussions were so great. Sally Murphy — I had two really influential teachers in 8th grade: Janice Brown, my choral director, and Sharon Bundy, my English and drama teacher. Together, they wrote and directed these large scale musicals for our school, and they also travelled with us to all kinds of drama and vocal contests. Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Bundy instilled in me a joy for performing that has never abated. They were positive, smart, passionate teachers dedicated to the arts who made a huge impact on my life. I cannot begin to say what an impact these two women had on my life, I get emotional even now thinking about how important they still are to me.