Thursday, May 11, 2017

To Honor Teachers

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and all week long, I’ve seen some great tributes to those teachers who’ve influenced various Facebook friends. It’s time I chimed in. My memories won’t necessarily be who taught me what academic subject; I’ll be focused a bit more on how they impressed me, or the impact they had on me as a person.
To start with, there was my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Hipps. (Hope I’m remembering her name correctly -- 2nd grade was a looong time ago!) I am still moved by her instinct to ask the little shy girl in her class to help the scared little new girl get adjusted to the class ... and "the little shy girl" and I are lifelong friends, thanks to that pairing. Oh yeah, there were the reading groups, and math lessons that I now realize were rudimentary introductions to algebra, but it’s her personal touch that I remember best of all.
I remember my 3rd grade teacher, Miss Hays, best for the spelling bees. She made learning fun for me.
My 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Wey, used to read to us. I’d always enjoyed reading, but somehow I credit her with helping to instill in me a true love of reading -- she opened up the world of Trixie Belden to me. (I’ll bet a few other classmates feel the same way.)
5th and 6th grades are somewhat of a blur, as in these grades we “changed classes” for the very first time -- in other words, we had subject area teachers. And it’s hard to remember who taught what, what year, but one really stands out: Mrs. Stone. Mrs. Stone opened my mind up to “New Math,” and I appreciated her then and I appreciate her now as teaching me HOW math works. The very next year, I became a teacher myself, tutoring one of my friends in math so that she could pass the entrance exam to an elite prep school in a neighboring city. I missed my friend when she moved -- maybe I shouldn’t have done such a bang-up job of tutoring, huh? -- but I did discover that I had a talent for helping people make sense of math. (Note to former students: You can either thank Mrs. Stone or curse her. She’s the one who gets credit for my having become a math teacher.)
My 7th grade English teacher, Joy Barnard, is hands-down the best and most influential teacher I ever had. So seamlessly did she integrate the rules of grammar into my very life, that I do not even have any specific memories of lessons. Except for sentence diagramming, which I remember being enjoyable (though I might not have thought so at the time!), and which I still am able to do, at least mentally, when constructing sentences. (Like that last thing, which is impossibly convoluted and not a sentence at all, but actually a fragment. But hey! Thanks to Mrs. Barnard, I know which rules I’m breaking!)
Another influential 7th grade teacher was a person whose name almost never comes up in reminiscences with friends: Mr. MacDowell. He was our composition teacher -- yes, composition was a class apart from English! -- and we wrote all the time. All. The. Time. It was for me a very good thing.
And how could I forget my 7th grade math teacher, Mrs. Reyburn? I do remember once frustrating her a little bit: We were brainstorming, coming up with a hypothesis (of course, as 7th graders we didn’t call it that!), then testing the hypothesis. I still remember other students eagerly working, then approaching her with their evidence that the hypothesis worked. Me? I sat there, trying to think up evidence that would show it didn’t work. When I found that non-example I was looking for, I showed her my work, expecting that the exercise would be over for the entire class. I don’t quite remember how she did it, but she did manage to praise me for my work and make me feel good ... while keeping me dummied up so that I didn’t ruin her lesson plan for the day! It still makes me laugh.
My 8th grade teacher, Miss Bryner, deepened my love of folk tales. I still have the “book” that I created as a class project.
My high school biology teacher, Mrs. Scott, and chemistry teacher, Mr. York, deserve high praise and my undying gratitude because, despite the fact that I did not particularly enjoy those subjects, their lessons were invaluable to me when my husband, Greg, was battling for his life. Seriously, I was able to understand, and communicate with, the endless parade of medical personnel that were an ever-present part of our life for three years. Kids, every single one of us has, at one time or another, asked the question that is the bane of a teacher’s existence: “When am I ever gonna use this stuff?” I’m here to tell you: Learn everything you can, because you just never know!
Our school system was relatively quite small, so there were teachers we saw again and again, sometimes in multiple disciplines. One such teacher was Mrs. Williams, who taught me not only 9th grade English (and made me love poetry) but 10th grade World History (and I still cherish the things that I learned in our comparative religions unit) and a 12th grade social studies class whose name I cannot quite remember but whose lessons in cherishing my freedom as an American and celebrating the diversity of America’s citizens I will never forget. She forced my mind away from my little world to a bridge in Selma, Alabama, to the lettuce fields of California, and many points in between. She was the chief influence in my decision to pursue an interdisciplinary major in the Social Sciences, a somewhat challenging degree to attain because it required not only facility in research and writing, but proficiency in statistical analysis (and 30% more than the standard credit hours devoted to the major, I might add).
Despite having grown up in a very small town, in a very rural area of Florida, my peers and I all pretty much agree that we got a fantastic education. I am still stunned at the breadth of my literary knowledge, and a lot of that exposure came from Mr. Smith (11th grade) and Miss Anderson (12th grade). There are several others, really good teachers, who I’ve not taken the time to mention, mainly because their impact on my life was mostly confined to the academic. There’s so much more to being a truly memorable teacher than the impartation of knowledge and management of young people (both their behavior and tracking of their acadmic progress), and it’s sad that the various state legislatures have overemphasized those two aspects of teaching.
From my teachers, I didn’t just learn a bunch of stuff. I got an education. And I am blessed.