Billie Hockman teaches fourth grade at Rancho Vista School in Palos Verdes, and because Wednesday is National Teacher Recognition Day, she asked her pupils to write descriptive paragraphs about her.
"This requires a lot of courage," she points out.
Indeed it does, since children are acute critics, especially of adults, and especially of teachers, whom they are likely to see as their oppressors. They are quick at detecting vanity, duplicity and pretentiousness, and just as quick at noticing the qualities they admire.
All in all, Mrs. Hockman doesn't emerge from this scrutiny too poorly.
This vignette is from a pupil who had no complaints: "Mrs. Hockman is a very nice person. She plays lots of tennis. And she can stand on her head. She likes creative writing and is good at it too. . . . She likes to read and do art. She is very good at playing softball. Her favorite color is purple."
Joe, on the other hand, has evidently been a victim of Mrs. Hockman's method: "I think Mrs. Hockman is a good teacher because if you work a lot she is nice, and if you don't she is very strict and can embarass you in front of the whole class. Like when we are reading out of our textbooks. If you are talking she automatically picks on you to read and you don't know where you are supposed to read and she says 'How would you know because you were talking?' Or if you were talking she asks you to tell her about what we just read. Wow!"
Christine wrote: "She sometimes usually is honest. Except about her age she says shes 19 but I don't believe her. I had a lot of other teachers but I think shes the best teacher I've had so far."
Chad wrote: "Mrs. Hockman is very different. She has a funny personality. Her favorite thing to do in class is to read. She is not a real strict teacher. She has nice ideas for subjects. She doesn't even bribe people to be quiet.
"Mrs. Hockman also has an athletic abilite. She plays tennis. Mrs. Hockman can also stand on her head. I think her favorite thing to do is to play tennis."
Sarah observed: "Mrs. Hockman has hazel eyes, short gray hair and her favorite color is purple and pink. . . . Mrs. Hockman favorite part of the day is art because you get to create things."
Chad noted: "She also can do a frog stand. Plus she loves dancing."
Wendy was more explicit on Mrs. Hockman's gymnastic felicity: "Mrs. Hockman is a very good gymnast. She can do a headstand and a frogstand. Mrs. Hockman can also do a cartwheel, a pyramaid and she can even do front and back somersaults. Mrs. Hockman is also a Laker and Doger fan.
"Mrs. Hockman is an excellent computer teacher. She picks people to work on the computers for an hour. Those people like that. Mrs. Hockman reads stories better than anyone I know. She helps us pick books every time we finish a book."
Jill said: "Another thing I like about Mrs. Hockman is when she tells us about whats happening in her life. Especially about her dog 'Rusty.' So she can find out about our lifes we have 'Sharing.' Even if were kind of old to have 'Sharing' we all enjoy hearing one anothers stories.
"When Mrs. Hockman gets mad she doesn't yell she just stops whatever were doing and says were going to do science 'Ecgh!' "
(Evidently Mrs. Hockman hasn't been able to teach all her pupils how to use the apostrophe.) Yoko wrote: "She's got a great personality and is an A-plus teacher in my rating. I like her for her scence of humor and many other things. One good thing is her reactions. She doesn't panic if something is wrong. The parts I dislike about her are her ways of embarrassing people. I think she is a little rude when she does that. Well she says that she is 19, but really she is over 40. She has grey hair, hazel eyes, and lots of rings. . . . Actually, I think she's perfect."
Judy wrote: "Mrs. Hockman is a good teacher, but she can be very picky. For example, if you want to say something you have to raise your hand. If you talk she kind of stares at you and calls on you and you don't know where you are.
"She has a son and he plays to rock all the time. So poor Mrs. Hockman has to listen to it. She says she likes all kinds of music (I'm sure). She dresses like it's 1975 and that's the kind of rock 'n' roll she likes.
"Her hobbies are dressing up like Tracy Austin, just kidding. . . ."
Judy sounds a bit catty, especially with that crack about dressing like Tracy Austin, even if she did say she was just kidding; but if Mrs. Hockman is only 19 (and she's sometimes usually honest), there's no reason she shouldn't dress like Tracy Austin.
As for saying that Mrs. Hockman dresses like it's 1975, I don't remember how we dressed in 1975, nor what kind of rock 'n' roll was then in vogue.
But at least Judy knows where to put her apostrophes, and that's a sign of a good observer.
I will say, though, that I never had a teacher who could stand on her head. Or did it in front of the class, anyway. But thank God I had a teacher who taught me where to put apostrophes.