Gramz's Blog

Musings of a crazy quilter

Mrs. Komnenovich

Mrs. Komnenovich was my fourth grade teacher.


I was nervous on the first day of school, but the butterflies in my stomach were especially active since it was the first day of a new school. We had moved for the second time in eighteen months so this was the third school of my career in public school and it was different from the previous schools because those classrooms had all been on the single floor; Monfort Heights Elementary was a great big, old, three-storey building with a basement. When Monfort Heights Elementary inhabits my dreams it is always much bigger and has multiple basements; it also has many, many stairs between my classroom and the bus and I am always worried the bus will pull out before I can get there. It had a gymnasium but no pool. However, in my dreams there is a pool deep within the twisting and turning bowels of the hulking building - way beyond the lower level locker rooms. This all sounds more ominous than I intended, but I think the occasional dreams are just a way for me to work through particular stresses in my life.


I do remember bits of that first day of the fourth grade; especially the other students since this was my first time meeting them. The common names were Mike, Dave, Bob, Rick, and Tom for boys, as well as Karen, Mary, Debbie, Barb, and Lisa for girls. There were so many Karens that one girl opted to go by the pet name her family called her. Then there was also the girl of Greek heritage who, shocking to the rest of us, had no middle name yet when spelled out on paper her first and last names alone were longer than any of our three names.


That year was the first year that lessons in stringed instruments were offered in our school district and it had been decided to begin with fourth graders although the band instruments did not begin until the fifth grade. The “orchestra” teacher traced our hands on a piece of paper and recommended an instrument based on the size of our hand and the length of our arm. I picked the violin and I was surprised when my parents actually rented an instrument and encouraged me to play. Once we got to junior high and then high school, we were the class to introduce strings to each new school and we were the first orchestra students to graduate. Many kids dropped out along the way, opting to focus on sports or band or choir or art, but I managed to hang in there. I enjoyed it, but I also felt obligated to stick with it. If we all dropped out then future generations might not have this option. In retrospect, perhaps it was silly of me to that kind of pressure on myself, but that doesn’t make it feel any less real.


Fourth grade class work was challenging. I had always worked hard in earlier grades because I wanted to do as well as the really smart kids. You know the type: those who would shout out the last word on the spelling test although the words were given in no particular order or who finished the math assignment so quickly that they got to help the teacher grade the other papers. In the third grade I had always felt a step behind in math; I never could seem to finish quickly enough to help Mrs. Miller grade. My mom tells me it is because I struggled with the multiplication tables. Apparently I was a step behind here at Monfort Heights as well. There were three fourth-grade classrooms and for reading and math the students were divided by ability. At math time I found myself in another classroom with all the students of the middle group; I felt humiliated that I wasn’t good enough for the higher group. For reading, I was sent to Mrs. Richardson’s class – also the middle group.


In Mrs. Richardson’s class, I learned the importance of a good name. It happened only once, but I remember it well. While taking attendance she commented about how strong one boy’s name was: Ben J. She said it sounded like he would be a lawyer or a judge or something. She repeated his name for emphasis. I still wonder how his life turned out.


I didn’t stay forever in Mrs. Richardson’s class because one day she sent me back to my homeroom for reading. I had been promoted to the higher reading class! I was stunned and embarrassed; I hoped I didn’t draw the attention of the other children at that moment. But I was satisfied that I was finally where I wanted to be.


That year was the first year I felt mocked and bullied by another student. I wanted to do all things well and I wanted to be noticed, but even when I did well I did not wish to draw attention to myself. In art class when I lamented the less than satisfactory result on my project, one girl began to mock me. I think she interpreted my self-deprecating comments as false humility and decided to call me out on it. She was a popular girl who always wore the latest styles and confidently spoke her mind, so of course I wanted to be like her. I was miserable when she teased me about my accent which, unfortunately, was stronger whenever I returned from a trip to southern Kentucky to visit extended family. So I worked hard to perfect my speech and use of grammar so as not to be considered backward or stupid.


But English and grammar were difficult subjects for me – and my grade card showed it. I was devastated when my report card had a C next to English. Until that first fourth-grade report card I had straight As. I now recall that the school I attended for the second half of the second grade and for all the third grade was significantly behind the schools I attended in the first and the fourth grades. But the only thing I could think of when I saw my very first C, was that I was frustration because so much of the new curriculum seemed foreign to me. I felt dumb.


Despite the challenges of fourth grade, there was one redeeming thing about it: Mrs. Komnenovich. Mrs. K. (her name was often shortened thusly because the closest some people could get to pronouncing her name was Ms. Kuh-nen’-a-vich) must have been petite, because she didn’t seem very tall or wide to me. She wore polyester pantsuits and the tops were usually white or ivory colored and were printed with floral or geometric designs. Her lipstick was too bright, but she smiled often. I do remember an occasional student getting into trouble, but I do not recall her raising her voice or yelling. She didn’t have the walls covered with stuff like the classrooms of today, but the bulletin boards were always colorfully decorated and she planned crafts around the holidays. Best of all, at the end of the school day if our class work was completed, Mrs. K. played games.


I don’t recall if I ever had a teacher play “Around the World” like Mrs. K. The game is played with flash cards. A student stands next to the person seated behind him who is also standing. The first person to correctly identify the card moved to the next person behind and the loser is seated. Sometimes the subject was math, but my favorite was when she used the geography or States flash cards. The other students were familiar with the game, and Ricky W. blew us all away when it came to identifying the shapes of countries. With the States cards the subject would vary: state bird, state capital, or the state itself. I lived for the days we would play “Around the World”.


Sure, fourth grade was difficult, but there are lots of good memories, too. Some of the friends I made there were with me the day I graduated from high school. Since there were 557 students in our graduating class, I had lost contact with many of those kids because our academic focuses varied and some attended classes in other buildings in business, car repair, or cosmetology. I did see them in the halls from time to time. But I met others who moved up through the ranks from other schools that fed into my high school. And, thanks to Facebook, I have reconnected with some of those people. We are parents and grandparents now and retirement is not so far off. I still wonder where some of them are and what they do.


But the reason I began this story is Mrs. Komnenovich. I wanted to tell you about the last day of fourth grade. All the achievement testing was done. The field day competition was over. All the milestones for the year had been reached. And we had one more “Around the World” game to play. She got out her grade book for reference and we began in the front, far right corner of the classroom. These questions were different. It was the Who’s Who of Mrs. K’s fourth grade class of 1973. Who has the highest grade point average? Who has the second highest grade point average? Who had the highest score on the achievement tests? Who had the most (fill in the blank)? The questions went on and on. She had prizes for the students who had achieved those goals.


The answers to most of those questions were obvious to us all. We all knew who were the brightest and most talented among us. But there was one question that had the entire class stumped. I believe every single person had a guess and absolutely no one could give the correct answer. Mrs. K. burst into laughter after my guess, an action which I tried not to take personally, but how could I feel badly when nobody else could answer correctly either? Finally, Mrs. Komnenovich had to tell us who had the second highest score on the achievement tests. It was … me. The whole class fell silent and stared at me as stunned as I. I slunk down in my chair then went to her desk to retrieve my prize. Me?


Today, I have my doubts as to whether Mrs. K. would be allowed to share those stats with the class as it is probably against the law, ethics, and school policy to do so. But I am so glad she did. I might have felt like I was lost somewhere in the middle when it came to grades and ability, I might have seemed shy and backward to others, but on that last day of school Mrs. Komnenovich found a way to let me know that I was special, too.


Thanks, Mrs. K!

Published Wed, Feb 15 2012 10:17 AM by Gramz Quilts


# re: Mrs. Komnenovich@ Wednesday, February 15, 2012 2:59 PM

Your story got me to thinking about my own grade school teachers and all that happened while I was growing up. Interestingly, we also had a Mrs. K., who was my first grade teacher. Now, she's my mother-in-law.

by Pamela

# re: Mrs. Komnenovich@ Wednesday, February 15, 2012 3:49 PM

LOved your story! Grade school was more fun than high school. I have some very fond memories of those days. But I don't remember high school so much.

by Linda

# re: Mrs. Komnenovich@ Wednesday, February 15, 2012 4:33 PM

I had a Ms. K (her name was Kenourgis)for a 5th grade teacher in Sacramento, CA.  

by Karla

# re: Mrs. Komnenovich@ Wednesday, February 15, 2012 10:31 PM

Pamela, YOURS is a good story!

# re: Mrs. Komnenovich@ Wednesday, February 15, 2012 10:34 PM

Thanks, Linda. Sometimes I think it is better to remember the good times rather than the bad; perhaps that is why you don't seem to have as many memories of high school.

# re: Mrs. Komnenovich@ Wednesday, February 15, 2012 10:34 PM

Karla, weren't we lucky to have Mrs. Ks in our lives?