Barbara Nichols: Fifth-Grade Teacher By Bernard & Marjorie Palmer

It had seemed to Barbara that she had always wanted to be a teacher…

Barbara Nichols 5th Grade Teacher

Back to school! Time to start the year with a good attitude cautionary tale wacky scheme inspirational message!

The Plot: I have been pleasantly surprised by the Palmers’ “Career Books” for the Moody Bible Institute, in that they present fairly progressive tales of young women pursuing their career dreams, even when their parents or society may not entirely approve.

This year’s back-to-school title is definitely in that vein, although it hits the reader over the head with the evangelizing a little more thoroughly than the previous books in the series.

Barbara Nichols has known that she has wanted to be a teacher her entire life. After graduating from high school she enters the state Teacher’s College, even though her parents had hoped that she would choose to become a missionary (maybe she was switched at birth with Peggy Archer?) She excels in her courses and upon graduation is hand-picked by the president of the college for a prestigious position at a textbook publishing house, but Barbara stands firm: she wants to teach.

She accepts a probationary contract at Mercer City elementary school (presumably in western Illinois) and becomes the new fifth grade teacher, despite the fact that “much to her dismay, she had often been taken for a high-school cheerleader.”

Like the Palmers’ other Career Books, the story is extremely short and very simple. Barbara navigates the small crises of her classroom with warmth and sensitivity, which of course are attributed to her good Christian character. By mid-year she has drawn a painfully shy girl from a poor family out of her shell to star in the school’s Columbus Day pageant, and corralled the energies of a would-be trouble maker into making a study of snakes, neatly avoiding having them wind up in her desk as part of a prank:

“I think it would be nice for our class to have a special project for a time. Would you leave your snakes in the schoolroom for a few weeks so we can study them? We girls, especially, are afraid of snakes. And I think it’s because we know so little about them. If we could keep yours for a time we could watch them and learn their habits.”

She is only worried about Mickey Watkins, a bright student with a bad attitude, who has been branded a bad apple by his previous teachers. Barbara believes that Mickey could be a natural leader, and surreptitiously enlists his aid in getting the other students interested in reading the “exciting Christian juveniles” that Barbara has been allowed to place in the school library. Pretty soon, she is serving as a chauffeur to and from Sunday School for some of her students.

But then things start disappearing from the classroom, and everyone is convinced that Mickey is behind the thefts.  First it is a student’s pocket-money, and then the Silver Star that Keith Reynolds’ dead older brother won in “the Korean action”. Keith’s father is understandably upset, and convinces the school board that Barbara is too young to provide proper discipline in the classroom and orders her dismissal.

This is a very short book, so it doesn’t take long for Barbara and Mickey to discover that a crow has been flying through an open classroom window and stealing anything shiny; but when Mickey scales the tree that the bird has been nesting in, he finds the missing money, but no sign of the Reynolds’ medal.

Sadly, Barbara returns to her boarding house to pack for her return home (she still has that cushy job at the textbook company if she wants it) when Mickey appears to confess to having actually found the medal after all and ask his teacher to come with him to the Reynolds’ to confess. In a spontaneous outpouring of Christian love, Mr. Reynolds apologizes and says that he will campaign for her reinstatement. Barbara offers Bibles all around.

Like Sandra Emerson’s journey into adulthood through nursing school, Barbara’s story doesn’t contain a hint of romance (not even any “groovey interns”); instead the focus remains on achieving her full potential in her chosen career, as well as serving as a good Christian role model.

Sign It Was Written In 1960: Corporal punishment is still the order of the day, as Barbara finds out from Mickey’s 4th grade teacher

“How I tried with him! But I had to give up. He just won’t respond.”

“What did you do?” Barbara asked.

“Everything I could find in the books, and a lot of things I couldn’t,” Susan said, “such as shaking him until his eyes almost popped out.”

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1 Response to Barbara Nichols: Fifth-Grade Teacher By Bernard & Marjorie Palmer

  1. Pingback: Donna Parker On Her Own (#3) By Marcia Martin | Lost Classics of Teen Lit, 1939-1989

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