My 3rd grade teacher with the red hair…

If only I had followed my instinct when it told me to look her up in the yellow pages! I could’ve seen her one last time, hugged her and shown her pictures of us with 80’s clothes at my piñata party. After 20 years of separation, 4 countries away, I came close to living only 35 minutes away from Mrs.Chesley, my most beloved American teacher from the 3rd grade… After hours of googling her name and calling her home in Hot Springs, my heart was giddy thinking of what I would say or how I would introduce myself! Would she remember me? The lady who lives in her house now, kindly returned my call and left a sad message, “I’m sorry but your 3rd grade teacher doesn’t live here anymore.” My heart sighed in disappointment. So I searched some more until I bumpbed into this article on page number 20-something for “joan chesley’s”. Tears welled up in my eyes at the finality of my efforts. I am so mad at myself for not doing this sooner.

Intered- The Journal of the Association for the Advancement of International Education-
Fall 2006, Vol 33, No.103

We Remember…

Mrs. Joan Chesley
Joan Chesley, 76, of Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, died May 23, 2006. Joan and her husband Dick spent many years as international educators and were active in AAIE as well as the regional associations. Their first posting out of the US was in Northern Nigeria, where
Dick served as visiting faculty from the University of Wisconsin. They then worked as educators in American international schools in Beijing, Addis Ababa, Monrovia, and Managua. They retired to Arkansas fifteen years ago and for a number of years continued to attend the AAIE conferences. She will be particularly remembered by the Africa bunch, as she and Dick were regulars at the AISA luncheon. Joan was born in Milwaukee, and she is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin. She is survived by husband Dick and children Emebet Chesley
of Redwood City, California and one son Christopher Chesley of MacFarland, Wisconsin, as well as four grandchildren and one great-grandson.


I adored Mrs. Chesley. I had never seen someone with bright red, short hair before. She was in her 50’s, but walked quicker than any of us down the hall. Our 3rd grade classroom was bright, fun, creative, soothing, and inviting. She cared so much about each of us, her colorful bunch of students. She was the one that caught my mistake of the English words, “he” and “she”- I had the definitions backwards and was totally calling everyone the wrong gender! To this day sometimes I still make those mistakes when I’m tired and not paying attention to my ESL- haha.

Mrs. Chesley believed every one of her students would become leaders one day in one area or another. When I failed a simple math test and I was scared to death to tell my mom, she called my mom and had a meeting with her with an interpreter to assist her. She basically told her I was intelligent, but I daydreamed a lot and forgot to write down my homework. Embarrassing, again. Yeah- that night Inés was memorizing those multiplication tables like nobody’s business, in Spanish, English, and any other language my mom decided to throw at me. 😉

When I got a “C” in my Science test, Mrs. Chesley figured out that I was a visual learner and just didn’t know how to study correctly so that things would stick. Again, she called my mom and told the interpreter, “tell her to make Inés memorize ALL the bold key words in the chapter, THAT’S what I’ll be asking on the test.” I still remember the picture and page setup for “fossil fuels” in my small science book.

My favorite part of the day was the Pillow Corner. Totally dude. If you finished your assignments for the day, you could go to this carpeted corner (no one had carpet in hot Nicaragua!). It was a rectangle carpet overflowing with our customized pillows and surrounded by small bookshelves. You couldn’t talk to anyone, make noise, you just had to be still & quiet & rest. You could even sleep! Naps in school should be a rule. And books!!!! My favorite. I remember friends whispering & giggling when Mrs. Chesley wasn’t looking- but if she looked, oh, she just had to look at you once, and you’d pretend to be asleep pretty quick.

When my mom died 3 years later- I remember her slender body walking up the hall from her 3rd grade classroom. She had seen my dad and I walk in front of her classroom on his way to drop me off to my 6th grade class. My life had been torn to pieces in the blink of an eye. I had lived the last 2 weeks medicated with sleeping pills and what other junk they gave me to calm me down. My dad walked hunched over, and the walk up to my 6th grade felt the longest of my life. I didn’t want to face anyone- I just wanted to die. I missed my mom. I was jetlagged from the funeral in Spain. My dad never talked to me. And here came Mrs. Chesley, who hurried up the hall to give me a hug and to respectfully tell my father, “Mr. Velásquez, I’m sorry for your loss.” I had never heard those words before- new vocabulary- that’s what you say when someone dies I guess. For a fleeting second I wished I could turn back time, go to the Pillow Corner and just close my eyes, rest, and my only worry be to wait for the bell to ring so I could go home.

4 thoughts on “My 3rd grade teacher with the red hair…

  1. I happened to find this on the internet as I was googling my father, Christopher Chesley who passed away a couple of years ago. Joan was my grandmother and I just wanted to say thank you so much for all of your kind words. She was an amazing lady.
    Brionne Chesley

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *