The Key to a Successful Classroom

In Memory of Mrs. Eileen Hower.


It was the unmistakable sound of her high heels making their way down the narrow hallway that made you sit up a little straighter in your seat.  Mrs. Eileen Hower stood no more than five feet tall and could command the space of any room, stage or space simply by walking in.  It was this presence that I admired and strived for as a future teacher.  

On this particular day, the six of us sat waiting for her in class.  She was late.  She was never late!  The chatter started as we began to decide whether to stay or assume that she wasn’t coming and leave, after all, after 15 minutes, you could leave and not be penalized, right?  Then we heard it, the clip-clop of those heels and the chatter stopped.  We got out our notebooks and pencils and we were ready to go.  Without a word she walked to the front of the room.  She turned on the smart board which read something about apples and asked enthusiastically, one question.  “Do ya like apples?”  We were in our senior year of our Music Education degrees, what on earth did apples have to do with how we were going to teach music!?  After looking at the other students faces, making sure that they were just as confused as I was, I uttered an uncertain, “uh, sure?”  She went on with a beautifully organized presentation on all the different types of apples there were and about how they would taste if we had eaten one.  After she was finished, she said “Thank you class, I will see you next time when we’ll learn about oranges.”  Then she turned off the board, and without a word walked out of the room, and shut the door behind her.  Then the whispers started.  “What on earth was that about!?” 

The door opened, and without a word, Mrs. Hower walked to the front of the room with a bag of apples in her hand.  She placed a different apple in front of each of us, some had Gala, a Red Delicious, Granny Smith, and even a Honey Crisp.  This time she didn’t bother to turn the smart board on before asking the one enthusiastic question.  “Do ya like apples?”  Again, we found ourselves looking at each other confused.  A smile on her face and her eyes wide, “Go on, taste it” she said.  So, we all picked up our apples and we took a bite.  Embarrassed that mine squirted a little as I bit into it, we all laughed!  “What does it taste like?”  She asked.  We all took turns describing the sweet and sour tastes of our apples.  They were crisp, and chilled just right.  She followed with an array of questions about how the apples felt, how the apples smelled, and the different types of apples we had in our hands.  We erupted into detailed discussions about our experiences with apples!   Every one of us was engaged in learning about each others apples.  Then, she closed the lesson with, “Thank you class, I will see you next time when we’ll learn about oranges.”  She smiled, like she always did, clasped her hands together and walked out of the room closing the door behind her.  There was silence in the room.  We heard the perfect rhythm of her heels on the tile floor getting further and further away.  Surely she would come back and we would discuss what just happened and how it related to being a good music teacher.  But, she didn’t come back.  She knew she had taught that lesson perfectly, and that we would all be changed and our classrooms impacted for years to come.