Somewhere, buried in the back of my closet between various ill-conceived Hawaiian shirts and pairs of multi-colored corduroy jeans is my fifth grade Field Day uniform. It is a bright red shirt with striped sleeves and the words “Landon’s Loonies” on the front. We were the only class that wore matching printed shirts, and while we finished dead last amongst the Olympic style competition of playground games, we laughed and cheered louder than every one of the four classes that consistently finished ahead of us in each event. No other team smiled as much as we did. No other team had as much fun. But of course, no other team had Ms. Landon.
Engaging her students is what seemed to come so naturally to Ms. Landon. She wanted to be an astronaut. She spent summers at NASA as part of a space camp training class. She wore a flight suit to school on shuttle launch days, and we always watched the shuttle launches and landings. Pictures of astronauts spread around the room, like the portraits of presidents in a Social Studies class, and to this day I, and other Landon’s Loonies, have an exceptional knowledge of the history of the space program.
One Monday we came into class and saw a four foot mountain on a table surrounded by little parcels of green “land” and piles of Monopoly money on our desks. We spent math period all week participating in auctions to buy the pieces of land and then sales to improve our property (complete with Hot Wheels cars in our driveways). During Language Arts, we wrote stories about the history of “Landon Island”. In social studies, we made maps of the island and formed a government. As for science class? Well, all week was basically one extended lesson on landforms and plate tectonics.
Impact on students
Our cafeteria table was full of conversation of how the island would be settled, and treaties and trade deals between countries. Over half the class made flags for their territories during a free Art day, including a group of us (including me) that normally wouldn’t muster the artistic motivation to draw stick figures.
It consumed us. We stared at it. We talked about it. We had deep and engaging discussions that occurred naturally because of the way Ms. Landon structured her teaching. We barged into class every morning to examine how it may have changed over night. Then, on Friday afternoon, right after lunch, Ms. Landon told us it was really an active volcano that was about to erupt and if we had placed any special trinkets on the island that we didn’t want covered in lava we could place them on the boat just off the northern coast, . We watched with awe as the mountain exploded and orangish baking soda and vinegar rained down on our creation. We cheered, we laughed, and man, we learned.
I can still picture the island, as clearly as I can picture the classroom and Ms. Landon herself. Now, to others, especially my group of friends from other classes, she was a crazy lady. They asked how bad it was to be in her class. They talked about how she ran around the building with her red hair and space suit and ready smile and if it ever got old. I wondered how they made it through their days with the droning of other teachers, the lectures and the quiet and the lack of zaniness that made Ms. Landon a legend to her students.
Looking back on my preteen psyche, there were days when I wasn’t in the best mood for her energy. There were days when I hoped we could just watch a movie or read or sit quietly and pretend to listen to her talk. But even on those days, I didn’t want to miss her class. No one did. We wanted to see what she would do next.
I’m sure there were plenty of spelling tests and multiplication minutes that year. I know that I had a lot more knowledge going into sixth grade then I did when I left fourth grade. I don’t remember the boring stuff, and that is where I think Ms. Landon really shined. We wanted to impress her. We wanted to learn from her. She brought kindness, and dare I say excitement to the classroom. Handwriting or math or sentence diagramming were not things we had to do, they were things we got to do. Things we got to show her we knew how to do.
The walkway to her portable was always full of former students stopping by to tell them what they were learning in sixth grade or to say hi or to hear another story about space camp.
Inspiring today’s classroom
We all knew a Ms. Landon. The Ms. Landons of the world are probably the reason why many of us chose to become teachers. They are memorable. We might remember lessons or jokes or special projects, but what is it that we are really emulating? It wasn’t her love of NASA or crazy hair that made her a great teacher, it was her love of teaching. I never felt that Ms. Landon was talking to me or us because she had to. I never felt like she wanted to be anywhere else besides right in front of us, teaching us a lesson she had taught for decades. She wanted to teach us, and by extension, we wanted her to teach us.
I think about my time in fifth grade a lot now that I am a teacher. I try to keep her spark for education alive. In that way, even though she has long since stopped teaching, her positive influence is still being passed on to anyone that had the joy of being in her classroom. And, that is why we will always be Landon’s Loonies.
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