Miss Stoopenkoff, a first-class teacher by Raina Telgemeier
As an author with a social media presence, I interact with amazing teachers every day on the internet. There are lots of teachers in my personal life as well: My mom teaches elementary school, my best friend Theresa teaches high school English, and my brother-in-law Rob has recently graduated to the role of principal at a New York City public school.
One of my very favorite teachers was also one of my first. Miss Stoopenkoff made up for her giggle-inducing name with a rock-solid foundation year for learning the basics. Beyond the usual reading, writing and arithmetic, we planted a garden that grows to this day, made stone soup, and took a special field trip to her house—where we met her dog and cats, ate cookies, and were shocked to learn that she was a person just like the rest of us. On Halloween she dressed up as a mime, and played the part by not speaking a single word to us for the entire day. Try that with a room full of six-year-olds sometime—we were completely under her spell.
One of my favorite projects in her class was one that lasted all year. Each student kept a diary, and every couple of days, we’d receive a prompt: What do you want to be when you grow up? (A farmer or a trapeze artist!) Who are the people in your family? (My mom, my dad, and my baby sister Amara!) Then, we would write a diary entry in the form of a letter. (I liked drawing pictures to illustrate my entries, too.) We handed them in, and a few days later, we’d receive Miss Stoopenkoff’s written reply! Plus a cool scratch-n-sniff sticker, if the writing was good.
Having my first bits and pieces of writing be acknowledged and answered was a real thrill for me. Sharing an ongoing conversation in a diary felt like sharing a secret with a friend. Miss Stoopenkoff took the time not only to praise and critique our writing, but to answer our questions, consider our thoughts, and respect our opinions. Opening up that little black diary with my name on the cover and seeing a new reply from her felt like Christmas morning, every single time.
I wrote in a personal diary of my own starting in fifth grade, and did so all the way through college. The illustrations that accompanied the entries became more elaborate, and before long I was writing comics about my day, almost every day. Those years of journaling absolutely informed my love for writing memoir and autobiography, and although nobody read or replied to my personal diary entries, they paved the way for the kinds of graphic novels I write today.
Perhaps one of these days I’ll write a first-grade memoir, to pay tribute to Miss Stoopenkoff, a first-class teacher.
Raina Telgemeier is the author and illustrator of the graphic novels Smile and Drama, both #1 New York Times bestsellers. She also adapted and illustrated four graphic novel versions of Ann M. Martin’s Baby-sitters Club series, and has contributed short stories to many anthologies – including Comics Squad: Recess!. Raina’s accolades include an Eisner Award, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor, a Stonewall Honor, and many Best Of and Notable lists. Her newest graphic novel, Sisters, is a companion to Smile. Raina lives and works in Queens, NY, with her cartoonist husband, Dave Roman. You can find her online at www.goRaina.com.